As I mentioned recently, I’ve just gone back to school. I was enrolling for classes over the summer and kept coming back to a course called “Mental Health Policy.” Here’s the description: ‘Examination of evolution of social policy and services for mentally ill, with emphasis on political, economic, ideological, and sociological factors that affect views of mentally ill and services they are provided.’

Sounds right up my alley, right? Half of me really wanted to take it, but the other half of me wants to stay as far away as possible. Because I don’t want to hear people talk about people with mental illness like they’re a separate species, like there’s none of them in the room. I don’t want to hear people advocating for involuntary¬†commitment. I don’t want to listen to people talk about how hard it was on them to have a relationship with a person with a mental illness. I absolutely do not want to hear the terms “those people” or “crazies” or “lunatics.” I just don’t.

I know that in theory, the professor is supposed to take care of those kinds of things. But the more time I spend on disability issues, the more thinking and reading and discussing I do, I find myself moving more and more to the radical end of the spectrum. Reconsidering and rejecting a lot of the “for their own good” policies I’d been okay with in the past. Thinking more and more about the social model of disability and becoming more insistent on demanding movement and changes and sacrifices from TABs instead of being willing to sacrifice and go without.

And I don’t have any faith that the professor would agree with me about all of that. There’s a difference between demanding baseline sensitivity to disability issues – using people first language, recognizing and respecting autonomy, including the viewpoints and rights of PWDs in discussions – and expecting the professor to be as or more radical than me on every potential issue. The first is reasonable (or should be), the second is not. (Unless maybe I was enrolled at Radical Disability Studies University.) ¬†But I knew that if the professor didn’t live up to that unreasonably high standard, I would feel irritated in every single class meeting. I would think about how radical or confrontational to be in my papers, my exams, my class discussion.

And then there would be the big question: do I disclose my disability status, or not? Do I talk about mental health policy without being explicit that I’m in the group of people who would be affected, or do I trust these strangers with extremely personal information about myself? Which of those could I live with? Which would make me the least uncomfortable?

So I’m passing up this learning opportunity – and potential teaching opportunity, as I’d imagine I’d run into some “teachable moments” at some point during the class. Because I just don’t want to deal with it. I just don’t have the energy.

And that, frankly, is a real shame. I’d love to do the reading and have the discussions and engage in the thinking that comes with the class. And I’m sure I have some opinions and experiences that would enrich the discussion and benefit other people in the class. But it’s just not worth it for me.

6 thoughts on “Pass/Fail

  1. Now I’m extremely nervous about my course in the upcoming semester: “Mental Health Issues in Criminal Law.” I didn’t even really think about this. I don’t know if I’ll disclose. The prof has a background in criminal law/sentencing, not in mental health, so I’m even more nervous, especially because we’ll be discussing Yates. I’m going to have to think about this now.

  2. I know i’m going to come up against the decisions you discussed, firstly if I should take such a subject and secondly if I do, to disclose or not.
    I ‘m still undecided on both counts. Luckily I have a while to decide (i have to finish my undergrad before I can start any disability studies, or health poilicy, where I study).
    At this stage I think I’m going to avoid the health policy aspect for similar reasons that you are. I’m planing to approach disability studies from a ‘philosophy of health’ and ‘critical theory’ perspective. I’ve found philosophers to be generallly more open minded than health proffesionals. Still. It’s hard because the way policy makers think about disability has such wide ramifications. I feel almostt guilty that I’m not taking the oppourtunity to improve those raminfications by choosing to hide in my academic bubble. I think that more important than teaching is self care. good luck.

  3. I would be vary wary, both of taking the class and disclosing as well. I’ve never come up against these difficulties in a mental health setting, but as a POC I have had my lived experiences minimised or even dismissed, all because “objectivity” is so prized.

    I wouldn’t want to experience the same thing in a mental health setting.

  4. For me, in my psychology classes, there was always that moment of wondering “If I disclose my own history, will I be accepted or rejected?” My first semester I didn’t disclose anything. But I saw others disclose and that gave me courage. My second semester, I would disclose only under specific circumstances- with teachers I knew I could trust, in classes with students who I knew were not going to be too judgmental. Towards the end, I was a disclosing machine. My senior project (a series of sculptures) was, in essence, my telling the world “These diagnoses, these disorders, they are all things I have experienced. This is what it felt like.” It took courage. The only reason I was willing to disclose so much was that my school was awesome about issues surrounding mental illness. Most schools are not nearly as good about it.

    I’m starting grad school (today is my first class) and I’m already worried about disclosure. I hope I can find the courage to disclose my status. I’m getting a degree in therapy and my fellow students and I are going to be therapists. If I can’t trust them, then I can’t trust my colleagues in the future. So I hope I can trust them, because I feel like I need to disclose my status. I already told one professor and she was really cool about it, so that helps.

    To disclose or not to disclose is a continual question. I defy many stereotypes people have about people with my dxes, so I hope I am breaking down barriers when I ‘come out.’ However, I am privileged to be able to disclose and to have had such positive experiences with it. My dxes are not the type to inspire people to be violent towards me, so I am lucky in that as well.

  5. I took a Sociology of Mental Health course a year ago, and sometimes it was awful and sometimes it was great. The professor was sure to talk about it with a sensitive tone and not a “ha ha, let’s look at all these crazy people!” but when we watched films in the class, there were many problematic and frustrating comments said by my classmates. Sometimes I had the courage to call them out, and sometimes I didn’t. I disclosed my mental health status early on in the class, as I did a presentation about Big Pharma and facilitating mental health issues with medication, therapy, etc. One person commented that too many people are taking unnecessary medication when they aren’t “depressed” and just need to “get over it” where I talked about how there were many instances in my life where medication was necessary, and that is a decision an individual needs to make for themselves and working with a trusted medical professional. I was shaking and my voice was cracking as I stood in front of a class of 75 people to say that, but it really helped that my professor backed me up and talked a lot about that.

    I really, really hate stepping out of my “bubble” at school. Sure, there are many problematic instances in women’s studies classes, but I find that it’s easier to address things in those classes versus, say, criminal justice courses. I am in a CJ course now and it makes me want to cry every time I am there, and the rage is just too much to handle.

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