Diagnosed by the Press

February 6, 2010 at 10:19 am

Apparently in the eyes of Dario McDarby of the Examiner, if you live strangely, have a troubled life and don’t step up to claim your diagnosis, you are  not only one of the great number of undiagnosed mentally ill but doing a great disservice to others suffering from mental illness by contributing to its stigma — at least if you’re a celebrity. In his gossipy, agenda laden ramblings, he refers to the late Casey Johnson as “obviously disturbed but possibly undiagnosed” and showing “the negative behaviors of a troubled person suffering from untreated neuroeccentricities.” His explanation for the connection between strange behavior and stigma to strangers:

The impact that this kind of notoriety of obviously disturbed celebrities causes trouble for people struggling to reclaim their mental well-being. It perpetuates the stigma of “mental illness” because of the obscene, grotesque, and ugly behavior of celebrities and others who can afford treatment but resist it because it somehow affects their notoriety. Most people do not have adequate access to services that can help them develop the tremendous talents that may lie undiscovered in their “disorders.”

I’ll never understand how people make the leap  from access to care or a right to care to the duty to receive care but it seems to be increasingly adopted by pro-diagnosis circles pretty consistently. Maybe it’s not one person’s “obscene, grotesque, and ugly behavior” that contributes to other people’s stigma around mental health. If anything, it’s armchair psychiatrists like McDarby trying to diagnose famous strangers through the microscope of gossip press, forcing a connection between serious mental illness and exploitable and tabloid-worthy acting out. One has little to do with the other  outside of the connection we create between them with articles like this. Psych diagnoses are stigmatizing because we try to put every socially unpopular or unacceptable behavior under the umbrella of a mental health label.

Though not diagnosed with any “mental illness,” at least to the public’s knowledge, Ms Johnson showed the negative behaviors of a troubled person suffering from untreated neuroeccentricities. In fact, she used them for notoriety in her alleged love tryst with Tila Tequila, possibly another troubled woman with undiagnosed mental health issues.

Instead, society becomes harsher toward neuroeccentrics because characters, who have the resources to reclaim their mental well-being, become pathetic actors in a tragedy written by scheming journalists and choreographed by dull-witted paparazzi. The blowback from this disgusting show greatly affects those with few resources, but who may possess even greater talents than the dead heiress and her grotesque Internet diva.

I’m not sure why any one person’s diagnosis is supposed to be the “public’s knowledge” and While McDarby appears to have some level of respect for people with mental health diagnoses, I’m puzzled by why he would write them into the stories of tabloid characters. To me, it seems a great disservice to link wild behaviors born out of celebrity to the people in this country with perceived mental illness that are leading (or trying to lead) “normal” lives, whatever that means. We are all too willing to throw life changing and stigmatizing diagnoses at people and now, having become quite comfortable trying people in the press, we are moving on to diagnosing people in the press which adds a lot to the notion that mental health is a matter of public opinion. I have to wonder how far McDarby is from the types of journalists and paparazzi he calls into question when he’s using a “dead heiress and her grotesque internet diva” to frame his argument that every one with troubles should get in line for a diagnosis.

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