Position Statement on Mental Illnesses
The Disability Intersection supports those diagnosed with mental illnesses and considers those with mental illness to be an overlooked and stigmatized group. Unlike many disability organizations, the disability intersection considers people with mental illness to be an important part of the disability community. It feels that the stigmatization of people with mental illness is traumatizing in itself. It acknowledges that the very concept of mental illness, like that of other disabilities, is socially constructed. Therefore, it feels that mental illness is often overdiagnosed. “Mental illnesses” exist today that were previously thought of as not mental illnesses and historical diagnoses are often laughed at today. There is so much we still don’t know about the brain.. Society is often uncomfortable with strong emotion, divergent thinking, high creativity, and unmet needs for mental stimulation. These are traits very commonly associated with giftedness.
While current research on the relationship between mental illness and creativity is contradictory, much discussion of giftedness and emotional difficulty has taken place. There is as much evidence linking giftedness and various forms of emotional difficulty as there is discounting it. However, in my research on the subject, I found there is ample evidence to suggest a link. I found the following, taken from Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnoses of Gifted Children and Adults particularly articulate and helpful:
“Many of our brightest, most creative, most independent thinking children and adults are being incorrectly diagnosed as having behavioral, emotional or mental disorders. They are then given medication and/or counseling to change their way of being so that they will be more acceptable within the school, the family, or the neighborhood, or so that they will be more content with themselves and their situation. . .
Other equally bright children and adults experience another misfortune. Their disorders are obscured because, with their intelligence, they are able to cover up or compensate for their problems, or people may think they are simply quirkily gifted. And there is another group of intellectually gifted children and adults who suffer from very real disorders, but neither they nor the treating professionals are aware that the disorders are related in any way to their brightness or creativity.1”
Margaret Keiley, Ed.D, a giftedness researcher, states that “Reviews of the literature on the emotional needs of gifted students suggest that they may be at risk for developing internalizing disorders. They have been found to be vulnerable to isolation and loneliness, which are precursors to depression and anxiety reactions. Their intensity, sensitivity, and emotionality can also contribute to anxiety, phobias and interpersonal problems. Internal, parental and societal pressures to achieve can result in a fear of failure or an obsessive compulsive perfectionism. The negative manifestations of perfection that have been identified as pertinent to the gifted are those related to affect regulation (e.g,, eating disorders, depression, underachievement, substance abuse, and suicide.) 2
Given this, the Disability Intersection will post relevant opinions, articles and research on perfectionism and suggestions to reduce its hold on gifted people with various disabilities.
While the disability intersection does not believe there is no such thing as mental illnesses, it holds that gifted individuals are likely diagnosed with them at much higher rates, A recognition of giftedness in treatment of mental illness is necessary and lifesaving. Because trauma and mental health diagnosis is linked, we will also discuss trauma, giftedness, alternative perspectives on it, subjectivity and perceived flaws in diagnostic criteria, and the role of history and psychiatry in creating our current understanding of mental health and illness. We support the use of medications, counseling and any other modality people may use to help themselves/ their loved ones and will respect this in consultation and other activities.
Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear—Cheri Huber
1 Webb, J. et al. P. xix
2 The Social and Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Neihart, et al (eds) p. 43