Mental Health Trivialization

Max Baumbach argues in “Why Bernie Sanders Should Apologize for his Mental Health Joke” that Bernie’s Republican mental-illness joke and use of the words “crazy” and “lunatic” in discussing violence trivializes and further stigmatizes “non-neurotypical people.” Bernie is merely saying what is popular, meaning that statements like his are more symptom than cause. America as a whole tends to blame gun violence on mental illness, which not only fails to address the real issue, but also perpetuates the widespread mental health stigmatization which has led to the incarceration of 1.2 million mentally-ill Americans. Baumbach is quick to note that this is “ten times the number receiving treatment in state hospitals.” He explains his particular frustration with Sanders below:

The reason this quip really rubbed me the wrong way is not because I found it particularly shocking; language that associates non-neurotypical people with moral inferiority and violence remains rampant and largely unquestioned in virtually all social circles, including those that purport to care about social justice. The left-wing habit of calling conservatives crazy or “wingnuts” is as vogue as calling violent people crazy or “lunatics” — something Bernie Sanders did multiple times during the debate. Even people with psychiatric diagnoses are taught to essentialize a relationship between mental illness and violent tendencies as an objective matter with no bearing on how we’re perceived and perceive ourselves.” (Baumbach)

Issues of systemic ableism require addressing, but doing so effectively will require a modernization of current cultural norms. McRuer suggests that current discussions of disability “reveals more about the able-bodied culture doing the asking than about the bodies being interrogated” (McRuer p. 93). The problem is that all of our cultural dialogues (hmmm…. Perhaps monologues) about disability start with the presumption that able-bodied perspectives constitute the ideal, and the patronizing implicit question “yes, but in the end, wouldn’t you rather be more like me?” (McRuer p. 93). Until we welcome the non-able-bodied and “non-neurotypical” as equal participants in, rather than subjects of, our discussions on health, we cannot make progress. This is something even well-meaning proponents of healthcare improvements such as Bernie Sanders must come to terms with.