The suffering Olympics in mental illness

There are many mental health issues out there. Some of them actually cause others – i.e., people who have disorders defined by a lack of empathy, ignoring others’ boundaries, etc., – to commit abuses which give other people depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc. If you put together all the people who have “mental health” issues, we’re actually pretty complicated and diverse group. Add in the fact that some nations disagree about how to classify some illnesses/disorders, and that there may even be good cultural reasons for this, and it’s a big mess.

Here’s the thing: when you consider that some people with mental health issues are actually causing other people to have mental health issues, it becomes obvious that you can’t support every member of the community equally at every moment, in every context. Consequently, there’s a situation I keep running into here and at Hathor. To give you some examples:

  • A commenter who insists every thread in which s/he participates should become about his/her mental disorder, and if we refuse to derail our discussion onto that, we are bad allies. (Emotional blackmail.)
  • A commenter insists that because s/he has a mental health issue, we should allow her to say racist and classist things because the hell with our non-white, non-middle class, etc., writers and readers. (We’ve also had people of color insist on being allowed to say racist and classist things.)
  • A commenter insists “America does it wrong” (I call this one Europlaining since it’s almost always Europeans who do this) and we must all go by his country’s take on various mental illnesses.
  • A commenter strongly believes an outdated theory (like, “all men are capable of raping you if you provoke them enough”), and when we offer them studies, data and facts which suggest otherwise, they refuse to hear it because they were raped/abused and this is the personal narrative they’ve developed to cope with it and we all need to go along with it to protect their feelings. The hell with our male readers and writers who are repulsed by the idea of pushing someone to do something they don’t want to do.
  • A commenter insists that his mental illness and the accommodation of it is more important than anyone else’s. Sometimes these people have been networking so exclusively in circles that deal with their own disorder – understandably – that they unthinkingly interpret “What about the rest of us?” as if it’s coming from people without mental health issues as opposed to people with different mental health needs.

You probably can’t imagine how painful it is to deal with these people. They are usually in genuine pain. They may not realize they are being selfish, but they are. For years, we would just keep talking to them, trying to get them to see that theirs was not the only sound position, that their needs were not the only ones to consider. But in many cases, it just kept going south – they’d bully, or hurl abuse, or bring in a posse of supporters to agree with them. The only response was to bully back or give up, and that’s when the good commenters – the ones who cared about others – left.

So we learned not to respond more than once or twice. If they showed no sign of seeing, or even trying to see, any view but their own, we learned to ban them right then and there before things got more abusive. Before other readers got hurt by reading their comments. If someone’s beating the crap out of someone else, you don’t stand by watching and say, “Poor beater – he can’t help it because of his mental disorder.” No, you stop the abuse: that is always the priority. The rest, you sort out later.

And that is our policy. If you are making others feel intimidated or like their problems are unimportant next to yours, then you get banned. There just isn’t another way to deal with this issue.


  1. Angry Millenial says

    Hi Jennifer,
    Just wanted to let you know that I have very much enjoyed reading your blog. Your analysis is spot-on for most of this stuff.

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