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My Psychotic Disorder Doesn’t Make Me 'Bad'

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Whenever someone does something really bad, I brace myself to hear if it will be because of terrorism or mental illness. I think almost everyone with a psychotic disorder, and I’m sure many other types of disorders, must. We wait to see what is going to be blamed, and because of that, who is going to be further stigmatized. About 1% of the population has schizophrenia, yet a significant part of that 1% does not identify themselves publicly. Some may be private people, but others may be afraid of the stigma associated with psychosis.

Much of the population does not know what schizophrenia entails, instead slapping it on as a label for various symptoms, including symptoms of dissociative identity disorder (DID) and personality disorders. Thus, the lack of specificity and accuracy in the semantics of the public with regard to mental illness redefines the medical diagnosis “schizophrenia” (and other diagnoses as well) as simply “bad.” Thus, when we “come out” as having a disorder, we are “coming out” as bad.

Translating a diagnosis to viciousness is the same as painting with a broad brush of ignorance and intolerance. It’s saying: We can’t be trusted, we are to be feared, we are less than human.

When Trump was still president, I dealt with microaggressions every day. His cruelty and insensitivity was always chocked up to be a personality disorder, which, in all fairness, might have been true. But every time someone said, “This is why we shouldn’t have presidents with mental illnesses,” I thought about pointing out how Lincoln had intense depression for much of his life. Jefferson was suspected to have had anxiety, Teddy Roosevelt had symptoms of bipolar disorder and others had alcohol issues. A mental illness can be a lot to deal with, but it doesn’t make the afflicted incompetent or heartless.

I can’t pretend mental illness doesn’t sometimes make people do bad things. But assuming someone must have done something bad because of mental illness is insulting. It may be that some people who do great wrongs have mental illnesses, but it also may be that they just aren’t great people. Those two categories of people are not the same. Being a “bad” person is not the same as having a mental illness. It is a Venn diagram, not a circle. In other words, mental illness does not necessarily equal “bad.”

Unsplash image by Sin Flow

Originally published: May 5, 2021
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