The Lesser of Two Weasels

How Mental Illness Remains Stigmatized By Democrats & Republicans Alike

Historically, I’ve rarely found politics worth following, up until very recently. For the past several weeks, I’ve tuned in to the town halls, the public debates, the primary coverage, and all of the other catchy phrases for “a bunch of concerningly expressionless politicians saying angry words in slightly different ways on live national television.” And after watching these various brands of trainwreck unfold before me, I’ve noticed that one particular subject seems to be popular among every candidate: mental health.

Now, as a young woman in America living with multiple mental illnesses, this is an incredibly important subject to me. I have a personality disorder, a trauma disorder, a mood disorder, an attention-deficit disorder—it’s a laundry list of sorts, and in the past two years, I’ve been treated by intensive hospitalization, therapy, and medication. It’s pretty safe to say I’ve been around the block of the American mental health system, and I can’t exactly say I’ve enjoyed the view.

So, as one may correctly infer, my ears perk up whenever one of our future Leaders of the Free World approaches the subject of mental health. It’s a trendy point of discussion right now, and is often followed by vague, questionable promises to improve the mental healthcare system, thereby improving the morale of America as a whole. And while I wish I could say that I’m excited by the mass recognition of a problem that has weighed heavy on my shoulders for several years, the selection of mental health as this election’s pet topic terrifies me for more than a handful of reasons.

At the core of my discomfort with the widespread discussion of mental health is an underlying thread that ties together each candidate: their past views on mental illness. Now, I understand that there is no perfect person, and that it’s perfectly human for our opinions to morph over time as we gain knowledge and experience. But when I look at each candidate’s track record, the comments and opinions that they’ve expressed about mental illness are quite damning.

As a vast majority of the American public already knows, Donald Trump has a tendency to say some really bad things. I say “bad” because no other word seems to sum up his opinions adequately. Plain and simple, when he opens his mouth, the things that he says are just bad.

The most obvious and common sign of Trump’s downright grim view on those of us with mental illnesses is his repeated insistence that violence in America is a psychiatric issue. He even went so far as to say that the mentally ill are so terribly unstable that they actively seek out targets for gun violence. (Uh, what?)

Unfortunately, Trump’s poor choices in language seem to be a common theme: he has a long, extensive track record of poking fun at people with disabilities. And, as he he tends to do when confronted about these actions, Trump often waved his hands at these statements and did absolutely everything except take responsibility for his words. Now, while I could spend several more paragraphs detailing Donald Trump’s obvious and terrifying disdain for people with disabilities—both mental and physical—I’m doubtful that our readers need convincing of what a terrible person he is. More importantly, I want to talk about our so-called progressive, feminist icon: Hillary Clinton.

Since Hillary Clinton’s campaign began revving its engine in the fall of 2015, she and her entourage have happily promoted her focus on mental health as a major issue. This is an interesting stance, given the Clinton administration’s infamous “war on drugs”: a war that ultimately resulted in the doubling of prison populations, the furthering of racial discrimination against black communities, and almost no actual change in crime rates despite the entire purpose of the program being to make America “safer.”

And sure, like I said, I understand that views and opinions change. But I don’t think it’s unfair to be suspicious of a woman who suddenly cares about mental health and addiction in America, when her husband’s so-called “war” was nothing more than a funded attack on impoverished black communities.

But maybe you want a more recent example that illustrates my issues with Hillary. In 2014, while delivering a speech at the American Academy of Pediatrics conference in San Diego, Clinton was more than happy to make a joke about “some people who miss important developmental stages” after a man in the audience stood up and began to shout about the danger of electromagnetic fields.

And if you still aren’t convinced of her questionable views, look no further than Hillary’s public conflict with Cristina Kirchner in 2010. Kirchner, then-president of Argentina, was experiencing diplomatic tensions with the United States. Clinton asked US embassy representatives to find out if Kirchner’s “nerves and anxiety” influenced her decisions. She also asked them to find out if Kirchner was on any kind of psychiatric medication. Right, Hillary, would you mind pointing me to the chapter of the DSM where it says that disagreeing with you is symptomatic of a serious mental illness? Great, thanks.

I wish I could say that the current state of American mental health care will see some kind of improvement during the next presidential administration. I wish I could say that I think my bills will be less expensive, my medication will be less physically detrimental, or my general existence will be less stigmatized. But at this point in the game, it’s looking like I will be living under either a Clinton or Trump presidency for a few years. And unfortunately, I don’t think I can say I’m particularly excited for either one to bring their past biases, reforms, and experience into a community that is already shrouded in stigma.

Art by Jun Joestar. 

Anne K.

Anne K.

Anne K. is a writer, student, Taco Bell connoisseur, and full-time traveling volunteer worker from somewhere deep in the Rust Belt. When she can stop making mediocre arts & crafts long enough to actually write an essay, she tries to use her work to shed light on mental illness and intersex issues.

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