Sunday, May 1, 2016

Mental Illnesses

Mental Illness? What Is That?

By now, you have likely heard the term mental illness before. However, do you know what that is to someone with a mental illness? Mental illness means many different things to many different people and goes by many different names. Some of the more generous terms might be disabled, challenged, or even touched. Some of the more derogatory would include retarded, screw missing, a card short, fucked in the head, and other choice terms. No matter what term you might choose to use, you can pretty much always assume that you will sound insulting to someone with mental illness. Imagine that you are missing a leg and getting called pegleg all the time. It would not be pleasant, no matter how accurate the descriptor is.

Mental illness to me is not any of those things. I am not disabled, challenged, touched, retarded, have a card or screw missing, nor am I fucked in the head. I am not perverted, a freak, slow, or anything else you can use. Those are labels. Labels are stigmatizing and breed misunderstanding. It establishes 'us' versus 'them'. Above all, a mental illness is something that presents certain challenges to people. Every single illness affects everyone differently also. Some illnesses, like depression or anxiety, generally affect people in a similar way, while others, like autism, affect people very differently depending on the person. Just because you know one person with any one illness does not mean you know what everyone with that illness is like.

Mental illness is also not a choice. Someone does not choose to be obsessive or compulsive about their behavior, they do not choose to be anxious about not washing their hands or whatever the obsession is. In some, the illness is a result of neural or chemical issues within the brain. In some, the illness is acute and brought about by a significant life event. In some, the illness has a genetic factor (like trisomy 21, or Down's Syndrome). Regardless of the cause of the illness, it is not anyone's choice to struggle in that area.

Mental Illness And Crime

There has been a lot in the news lately about how jails and prisons are mainly home to mentally ill people. The implication seems to be (and I have not read many of these stories, I am just going to general tone of the limited amount I have read) that we should be keeping the mentally ill who commit crimes out of jail, out of prison. In other words, that we should pity them and get them treatment, not keep them in jail or prison (yes, they are separate terms: jail is where you go when you are awaiting sentencing or awaiting a bed at a prison, whereas a prison is generally where you go to complete a sentence longer than a year, depending on location).

Crime is crime. It is breaking the law. There must be a punishment or sentence when a crime has been committed. That is what the criminal justice system is based upon. However, we do have a habit of locking up people who need treatment and rehabilitation right alongside those who justly deserve a long time-out from society. The difficulty with the courts is separating out who these two groups of people are, and it is not readily apparent. The courts also have limited resources, and a jury or prosecutor may not always understand the nuances of mental health.

However, just because some people, even the majority, who are in jail are mentally ill does not mean they represent most mentally ill people. Most who have a mental illness do not commit a crime, and mental illness is not an excuse for committing one.

How Does That Apply To Primary Prevention?

The million-dollar question: Why does any of that matter? Child sexual abuse victims, by the above description, means having a mental illness. Abuse affects everyone differently. There are no victims that experience abuse the same way. Some people are impacted greatly, others less so. Some people are able to move past it or manage it, some are not. But even "child sex abuse victim" is a label that is stigmatizing because there are very real myths that people believe about it.

Many believe victims are not telling the truth, or making it up for their own gain. And given how some victims act (especially on certain internet conversation platforms like forums, Twitter, news comments, etc), there is reason for those myths. I touched on this in a previous post.

I have also touched on how a pedophile is someone with pedophilia, an attraction to young children, and not someone who has sexually abused a child. I have discussed the stigma surrounding pedophilia many times. This same stigma is what drives people with other mental illnesses to attempt to hide them and hide from them. I did that myself, both from my aspergers and from my pedophilia. But just because someone tries to hide from their mental illness does not mean it stops having effect.

Interference And Distress

Typically in the DSM (the huge handbook that psychologists use to diagnose mental illness), something is considered a disorder if it causes someone significant distress or if it interferes with someone's life. In other words, someone can have some of the other typical diagnostic criteria for a disorder, but if it does not cause distress or interference, it will usually not be diagnosed as a mental illness.

That brings me to my next point: Pedophilia, hebephilia, and ephebophilia. All of them are considered disorders. All three of them involve sexual attraction to youth: Pedophiles to children not yet at puberty, hebephiles to children who are in the midst of puberty, and ephebophiles to children just after they finish puberty (ages 0-11ish, 11ish-14ish, and 15ish-19ish respectively (not everyone hits or finishes puberty at the same age, so the age is less important)). All of them being disorders does not mean that an ongoing attraction to children of those ages is always a disorder. It does not mean that those with it are mentally ill. It is entirely possible to have the attraction that typifies the disorder, but to not internalize the stigma associated with these disorders and so not cause interference and distress.

In plain language, just because someone has an attraction to minors does not mean that they have a mental disorder. Just because someone has a sexual attraction (not just to children, but any attraction) does not mean they will have sex with those they are attracted to. Just because someone has a sexual attraction does not mean that they chose that attraction.

Okay, Again, How Does That Apply To Primary Prevention?

As I have said before, most pedophiles- or paraphiles if you prefer- do not sexually abuse children. I have also said that most people who sexually abuse children do not do so out of a primary attraction to children. The reasons that people, both adults and adolescents, sexually abuse children are many and complex. The best resource you can find to support that statement in a nutshell can be found here on pages four and five. They have a fairly long list, comprised of (but not limited to) loneliness, sexual arousal, anger, antisocial attitudes, desire for control, hypersexuality, sexual victimization backgrounds, abusive home lives, and a combination of these and many other factors.

The sexual abuse of children is not a "problem with pedophiles", nor with pedophilia. It is a problem with people who have mental health issues who are, for whatever reason, not managing those mental health problems. Essentially, the number one way child sexual abuse and other forms of abuse can be treated is by recognizing and treating these mental health issues. There are a number of challenges to this:

  1. Myths
    1. People believe wrong information or lies about abuse, or about abuse victims.
  2. Stigma
    1. People look down on, bully, refuse to discuss, and otherwise treat the issues as hot potatoes to never talk about except in a derogatory sense.
  3. Fear
    1. People are afraid of mental illness and topics surrounding it, and do not wish to discuss it.
  4. Anger
    1. People get angry on these topics because they have been negatively affected by some form of mental illness. 
  5. Pedohysteria
    1. People get very uncomfortable when children and sex are in the same conversation. This forms a taboo and a fear of discussing these topics, and outright panic whenever the conversation is brought up in any form. 
  6. Revenge
    1. People assume that pedophile means child abuser, and wish revenge and retribution on anyone whom they think has sexually abused a child.
A Mentally Ill Person's Perspective On Mental Illness

I am not defined by my pedophilia. I am not defined by my asperger's. It is not who or what I am. They are a small part of me, and they do affect me. I cannot change some of the challenges that both of them bring me. I will always have a little bit more difficulty communicating with people because I have asperger's. I will always have an attraction to children. But I can make choices to minimize the impact they have on my life.

Neither of these disorders makes me sick, perverted, dirty, deranged, psychotic, stupid, dumb, or any less a human being than you are. They do present unique challenges that many, even most other people do not face or will ever have to deal with personally.

In some ways, they are actually a benefit to me. They give me the perspective to be able to write articles like this. They give me the ability to see things differently. My asperger's affords me the ability to not emote on an issue, but to process it rationally. This comes in handy when discussing difficult topics, such as the topics surrounding primary prevention. It gives me the ability to switch off my emotions for a brief period of time, reflect rationally on something, and then process how I feel about it. My pedophilia gives me the ability to relate to others with pedophilia, and understand a very broad range of diverse sexualities. It gives me a great deal of empathy, even for people who hate me simply for being attracted to children. I do not "understand" how a heterosexual man finds an adult woman attractive any more than you likely "understand" how I can find children attractive, and knowing that means I can empathize with you.

In some ways, they are a huge drawback. Having a romantic relationship with another adult becomes challenging because there will be times where I find children more attractive than I find them, and I have to sort through how that feels and how that functions. I can never be completely happy with any partner, because I am attracted not only to young boys, not only to men my age and younger, but I am also somewhat attracted to young girls and women my age and younger. I am bisexual, on top of having pedophilia. Having asperger's means that miscommunicating with people is all the more frustrating, because I have no idea if it is the result of my asperger's or just a normal misunderstanding (whatever normal is, anyways). It means that I sometimes switch off my emotions when I need to process them, or switch them on when I need to be rational. Having asperger's means I am just not interested in the things I am not interested in, it is between 0-5% interest, or 95-100% interest, no middle ground.

Wrapping It Up With A Nice Bow

Mental illness, in case you could not tell by the length of this post, is a vastly complex, frustrating, difficult, and even dangerous subject. In one sense, it is like discussing racism as a white person: No matter what you say, you have the potential to offend someone to the point of irrational anger. In another, it is like trying to figure out a 5,000 piece puzzle: Challenging, but immensely rewarding when you find a piece that fits with another piece.

Approaching the topic of mental illness is much like approaching a minefield: It has to be done carefully. But if you learn what you need to learn and know how to navigate the topic, you can learn to cross that minefield safely. The only way you can learn is by opening your mouth and risk sounding rude or ignorant, and being willing to listen to other's stories. Reading this lengthy post was one step towards that understanding. Go take another.

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