Buzzfeed Mental Health Week
December 7, 2015 10:51 AM   Subscribe

"We’re launching Mental Health Week at BuzzFeed today because media can play a huge role — for good or for ill — in how people see themselves and understand their mental illnesses. We see it around the globe: a shift from seeing depression, anxiety, and other disorders as shameful personality flaws, and toward understanding them as the illnesses they are."
posted by roomthreeseventeen (72 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
BuzzFeed is a marketing company that's very good at exploiting people's vulnerabilities to sell product. The core of their business is invasive, and that it's suddenly talking about the good it can do for mental health is amazingly smarmy.

I respect the hustle, and I know that whatever they're doing this week will do more good than harm, but still: fuck em.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 11:14 AM on December 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


Buzzfeed has been on fire lately with their news. They're taking up some of the slack in reporting and investigative journalism that has been lost from a lot of MSM sources. So what if a whole bunch of their context is bullshit lists? It's not like they're printing outright hateful lies to pay the bills. If the worst thing you can say about the worst of the content is that it's stupid that's a win in my book.
posted by Talez at 11:20 AM on December 7, 2015 [34 favorites]


BuzzFeed is a marketing company that's very good at exploiting people's vulnerabilities to sell product.

I mean, you could same the same thing about any news company, which is what they are, and increasingly something they do very, very well. I don't see any reason to rake them over the coals for what is, in fact, an exceptionally important and valuable thing they are doing, especially as the first comment.
posted by maxsparber at 11:21 AM on December 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


Good on em. I don't see any other news media doing anything like this (but I'm sure I could be wrong so please point it out if I am), and this is a good thing. I hope to live in a world someday where mental illnesses aren't viewed as personality flaws and we treat those of us who suffer from them as the lovely humans they are, with their condition or without.
posted by allkindsoftime at 11:30 AM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


BuzzFeed is a marketing company that's very good at exploiting people's vulnerabilities to sell product.

You know that every significant news organization ever has been either a loss leader or far more reliant on advertisers than subscribers, right?
posted by Etrigan at 11:34 AM on December 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


While Buzzfeed is indeed doing really well at news, hasn't anyone else felt that the mental health posts have been a bit thin? I mean, thin is the house specialty, but aside from some pieces like this essay on what it's like having OCD, everything seems like the same listicle-based pieces they do on every other topic...which isn't that helpful. Who is it supposed to benefit?
posted by mittens at 11:46 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know that every significant news organization ever has been either a loss leader or far more reliant on advertisers than subscribers, right?

Most keep a pretty solid wall between editorial and marketing, where as BuzzFeed will mysteriously delete posts critical of advertising clients. BuzzFeed also directly produces a lot of content, as literally hired marketing creatives, and I can't shake the feeling that their non-advertising content is in a large part a dry run for stuff they'll get paid to make later.

For me, the idea of a mental health week on BuzzFeed is more ironic than did most, because keeping a eye on how I spend my time online has had a positive impact on my mental health. I think going into this with a bit if skepticism is okay, which is why I posted.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 11:48 AM on December 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


Most keep a pretty solid wall between editorial and marketing, where as BuzzFeed will mysteriously delete posts critical of advertising clients.

Yes, but you said, "BuzzFeed is a marketing company that's very good at exploiting people's vulnerabilities to sell product." Have you ever seen any news anywhere? "If it bleeds, it leads" isn't a truism because journalists enjoy writing about bad shit -- it's a truism because people buy newspapers and/or watch news programs about bad shit. The vast, vast majority of news organizations can be described as marketing companies that are very good at exploiting people's vulnerabilities to sell product, because "Is your refrigerator going to kill you? Watch Action News at 11 to find out!" brings eyeballs to the three ads that Big Jim's Used Cars buys every night.
posted by Etrigan at 11:59 AM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is absolutely nothing wrong with producing content that your audience wants. Things become more of a grey area when you're producing content that someone else wants your audience to want. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but it means you're not a news company.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 12:09 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Buzzfeed has been on fire lately with their news. They're taking up some of the slack in reporting and investigative journalism that has been lost from a lot of MSM sources. So what if a whole bunch of their context is bullshit lists? It's not like they're printing outright hateful lies to pay the bills. If the worst thing you can say about the worst of the content is that it's stupid that's a win in my book.

That, my friend, is variable schedule reinforcement. You think you're in a carpet joint with good comps but it is just another shitty attention casino and the house always wins.
posted by srboisvert at 12:11 PM on December 7, 2015 [6 favorites]


By the definition in this thread apparently every single digital publication that makes any money is nothing but a "marketing company".

Meanwhile Buzzfeed is doing more awesome work and putting out more amazing activist-leaning content, storytelling and analysis, and actual long-form journalism (despite their cutesy lists) than most. Even Ta-Nehisi Coates has said he believes they deal with diversity more aggressively than any other publication. Sorry they are not a fucking DIY radical non-profit zine.

Babies, bathwater, etc...
posted by windbox at 12:16 PM on December 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


[I realize the site and the topic are wrapped up together in the framing of the post here, but to the extent that "BuzzFeed's marketing-centric so this isn't really as much about mental health awareness as it should be" is a reasonable sort of worry to have, maybe having this thread not be so much about BuzzFeed to the exclusion of talking about mental health awareness is worth trying.]
posted by cortex at 12:23 PM on December 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


Buzzfeed is patting itself on the back: "Watching this video made me feel less alone in a world where I so desperately long to connect with other people,"
But Buzzfeed Violet is basically soap operas on YouTube. There's no science or mental health professional advice behind these little dramas.
posted by Ideefixe at 12:41 PM on December 7, 2015


There is absolutely nothing wrong with producing content that your audience wants.. You won't get far if you don't. But you can also give your audience stuff that they want that's harmful. You can also give them stuff that someone else wants them to want that isn't harmful and is actually good for everyone.

Editorial responsibility is a better metric for the ethical nature of a publication than the provenance of any particular piece of content.

The trouble with mental health - or any disability - coverage is that people don't want to hear about it. These things will get people flipping or clicking away at the speed of light. It's scary stuff. I think this is changing, in a complex and haphazard way, because of all sorts of factors, and they're becoming much less taboo. Whether Buzzfeed is feeding off or feeding into this change is moot, but it's a good thing that it is and (assuming it doesn't portend exploitative coverage) a responsible thing to do.
posted by Devonian at 12:52 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


maybe having this thread not be so much about BuzzFeed to the exclusion of talking about mental health awareness is worth trying.

Okay, lets talk about how mental health awareness is ripe to be turned into a cause for corporations to attach themselves to in an effort to improve their image, like breast cancer awareness or domestic violence awareness. I'm preemptively disappointed to see this result in no real change.
posted by The Devil Tesla at 12:58 PM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


I mean, if we're going to have a derail when talking about mental health, why can't we just do the usual thing and make it about gun violence instead of BuzzFeed being good or not?
posted by qcubed at 12:58 PM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


This thread is really being taken over by the Buzzfeed Is Bad brigade. Can you maybe stop.
posted by sweetkid at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


I can think of worse things for a company that generally specializes and succeeds in "viral content" to do. What's disappointing is that if you go to their main page, you see absolutely nothing to indicate that this is actually a drive of focus of theirs unless you scroll down several pages.

I applaud any effort to move away from the othering and demonization that come with mental health issues - There is entirely too much movement towards that direction with the current discussions around mass shootings, so anything to counter that is a good thing. It's also great to see that it isn't things like "10 things you can do better on adderall" or other punch-worthy shit like that. However, I think it's pretty disingenuous for buzzfeed to proclaim that it's "mental health week" when it's so buried inside the site.
posted by MysticMCJ at 1:02 PM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Whenever there's a new mass media mental health awareness drive, I can't help but look forward to their extensve coverage of "safe", understandable, approachable conditions - depression, anxiety, ADHD, maybe OCD or eating disorders or high-functioning autism if they feel like branching out. Not to trivialise any of those conditions, but they're the ones we're more comfortable talking about as a society. Perceived as less dangerous, less alien.

If there's anything more than cursory coverage of bipolar, psychosis, etc., I'll eat my own tinfoil hat.
posted by terretu at 1:05 PM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


Well, this is the first time I've ever heard of depression and anxiety referred to as safe, understandable, and approachable.
posted by mittens at 1:16 PM on December 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


Well, my excellent friend Stacy Pershall's excellent book, Loud in the House of Myself, is featured in the "31 Books" list (or is it 32?), so I'm happy for anything that possibly encourages people to read her book specifically (seriously, she is a fighter and a great writer who spends her days being a living example to kids who are wondering how they are ever going to make it), or to talk about mental health in general. So, more power to you, Buzzfeed, say I.
posted by staggering termagant at 1:21 PM on December 7, 2015 [5 favorites]


When I first entered high school a decade ago, internet content was thin as fuck. In my experience, I had trouble finding outlets for young writers to share their stuff on a widespread basis, and very little was going on when it came to awareness of issues. Tumblr and Buzzfeed wasn't even in existence, and Facebook and Youtube were still incredibly new. I think my life would've been so much improved when I entered college and saw these types of campaigns, because of a space where talking about mental health was not taboo. There's even a new article posted today sharing how mental health issues arise drastically in your early 20s. Even 10 years later, I still see many gaps in coverage on mental health, and I still think up articles to write about for mental health. This is an exciting opportunity to expand the talk.

Not to mention, I took a journalism class with a 'veteran editor' of the race/ethnicity section of my local newspaper. He was one of the most racist, whitest people I've ever met, total liberal values, and was only interested in what sold, which was safe, culturally "informative" news about local events. He was not interested in hearing any articles that were pitched from our college-age class, and it was a sad wake-up reality for many of us that the old editors had no interest in hearing what we want to talk about. I found that experience extremely traumatizing to my growth as a young writer, and now I'm trying to figure out and find mentors who would be more supportive of the topics that I want to write about.

We've seen how many marginalized issues have affected our own health and warped our family dynamics. I come to Ask MetaFilter because I get to see so many healthy, helpful opinions on how to deal with issues of the interpersonal nature. Buzzfeed does a good job of disseminating information, and I think the fact I can even talk to my mom about my mental health issues was something I could've never dreamed about 10 years ago. I do hope we can move onto different forms of mental health issues, but I want to see what they cover, and go back onto MetaFilter for some wonderful critiques.
posted by yueliang at 1:24 PM on December 7, 2015 [14 favorites]


Whenever there's a new mass media mental health awareness drive, I can't help but look forward to their extensve coverage of "safe", understandable, approachable conditions - depression, anxiety, ADHD, maybe OCD or eating disorders or high-functioning autism if they feel like branching out. Not to trivialise any of those conditions, but they're the ones we're more comfortable talking about as a society. Perceived as less dangerous, less alien.

If there's anything more than cursory coverage of bipolar, psychosis, etc., I'll eat my own tinfoil hat.


I'm afraid that coverage of anything someone has a deep understanding of (or especially personal experience with) is going to seem cursory, because the actual experience is so deep and so powerful and really hard to articulate to someone who hasn't been there. I imagine that's especially true of mental health issues.

Plus, more common conditions will always have more people willing and able to share their own experiences with it, and thus more visibility - there's really nothing broken about that, it's just statistics.
posted by R a c h e l at 1:26 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Which isn't to say that it isn't thin. Everything to do with mental health deserves more and better coverage. But I'm not sure that hierarchy exists in the way that you claim.
posted by R a c h e l at 1:27 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


Whenever there's a new mass media mental health awareness drive, I can't help but look forward to their extensve coverage of "safe", understandable, approachable conditions - depression, anxiety, ADHD, maybe OCD or eating disorders or high-functioning autism if they feel like branching out

Have you considered the fact that these might get the most visibility because these are some of the most commonly dealt with mental illnesses? Based on a quick google search, I'm getting 5% for ADHD, 6.7% for Depression, and 18% for anxiety disorders (an umbrella term that includes, OCD, generalized anxiety, and PTSD). I'm not saying this is or isn't the case, but it seems like a pretty reasonable explanation that can't be dismissed out of hand, especially considering the fact that a lot of these movements are driven by people who are themselves diagnosed with a particular disorder or who know someone that has been diagnosed with it.

On the other hand, I'm getting 1.1% for schizophrenia and 2.6% for bipolar (although I would argue that the latter does get some measure of attention as well). I think you also just have fewer people who are willing and able to speak out from a personal perspective when it comes to something like schizophrenia, both because of the lower percentage affected and because of (I'm guessing) more challenging or less adequate treatment.

At the same time, you have something like Borderline Personality Disorder which is heavily stigmatized and has diagnosis rates similar to depression (depending on what study you look at).

Not to trivialise any of those conditions, but they're the ones we're more comfortable talking about as a society. Perceived as less dangerous, less alien.

I feel like this is only true in a very narrow subset of the population. More broadly, I think mental illnesses of all kinds, even the "safer" ones, are still heavily stigmatized in a way that other illnesses are not. After all, if you were in the hospital for pneumonia or whatever, you probably wouldn't hesitate to tell that to other people in your life. If you're hospitalized for a mental illness or even just receiving outpatient treatment, that's not generally considered a topic of polite conversation.

I think there's a lot to be said for devoting a fair amount of air space to mental illnesses that affect the most people. Not that we should completely ignore less commonly diagnosed ones, of course. Also, at this point in time, I really feel like we're in the stage where any little bit helps when it comes to bringing positive attention to and educating people about mental illnesses.
posted by litera scripta manet at 1:34 PM on December 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


Any content that helps de-stigmatize mental illnesses, even if it's thin, viral content, has to be better than the deafening silence that exists 99% of the time. Buzzfeed has enormous reach and wants to do good things with it, at least some of the time. Visibility is a good thing, isn't it?
posted by ApathyGirl at 1:38 PM on December 7, 2015 [13 favorites]


When I first entered high school a decade ago, internet content was thin as fuck. There was no outlets for young writers to share their stuff on a widespread basis, and very little was going on when it came to awareness of issues.

I feel like this is more a discoverability problem. Internet content on mental illness was rich and wonderful a decade ago...but where to find it? Some incredible writing was being done on LiveJournal, for instance, but it would not have gotten the widespread push that a simple Buzzfeed list could. And even further back, there was excellent writing on mental illness on Usenet, but again, you had to know where to look.

Of course, that was all unpaid, and you did it for personal reasons...maybe self-expression, or feeling the need to help fellow-sufferers, or even just to get some breathing space away from massive stigma. But there were indeed communities, and help, and an outlet to talk, to write.

(are people actually getting paid to write about mental illness at places like Buzzfeed? I assumed it was all sort of "send us your stuff for us to use for free," but that might be my prejudice showing.)
posted by mittens at 2:01 PM on December 7, 2015 [3 favorites]


Buzzfeed pays writers and IIRC has some writers on staff, but I'm not sure about the actual numbers involved.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:42 PM on December 7, 2015


Any content that helps de-stigmatize mental illnesses, even if it's thin, viral content, has to be better than the deafening silence that exists 99% of the time. Buzzfeed has enormous reach and wants to do good things with it, at least some of the time. Visibility is a good thing, isn't it?

Visibility is great, when you control your own story. If you are allowed to write your history without outside interference, without it being massaged to sell a certain storyline, it is incredibly powerful.

But is thin, viral content actually visibility? Or is it the opposite--the forcing of experience down into a two-dimensional picture that people will look at and then think they understand the totality of your illness?

What happens when viral content gets too focused on hope...and you're one of the many mentally ill people who doesn't get better? What if you're one of the ones that are not only treatment-resistant, but who found a viral "tips and tricks" approach somehow belittling, depressingly so? What if the connection you were seeking got cut off because of the positivity-filter that only shows the good stuff?

Look at the verbs in the buzzfeed headlines for this: "dealing," "recovering," "struggling," "coping." The narrative is that you must always be doing something with your illness. But what if you just want to sit still with it? What if you just need to cocoon for a while, and feel it? Or what if it disables you, and there's not really anything you can do about it?

Sometimes stigmas persists, if you do not fit a comforting narrative. Sometimes visibility becomes a harm.

I am not trying to suggest that we should go silent on mental illness, and let everyone stumble around blindly, ignorant of the fact that they're not alone. But I am suggesting that anything short of giving the mentally ill their own, clear, full voice, without being hemmed in by the need to fit a profitable narrative or viral format, will always be less than we need.
posted by mittens at 2:46 PM on December 7, 2015 [11 favorites]


Based on a quick google search, I'm getting 5% for ADHD, 6.7% for Depression, and 18% for anxiety disorders (an umbrella term that includes, OCD, generalized anxiety, and PTSD).... [and] 1.1% for schizophrenia and 2.6% for bipolar....

FWIW, that means that for every ten positive, humanizing article (or those "here's what it's like to have xyz!" comics) about depression, there ought to be five positive, humanizing articles about bipolar disorder, and, based on the NIMH data, two each about schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder (1.4% prevalence). Or, in other words, for every one article on depression, you ought to be able to point to an article about one of these disorders.

Maybe you've seen more of those articles than I have, but I'm having a pretty hard time thinking of any examples to point to.

The problem with discussions about 'mental health' is that they never become discussions about mental health. Unless they occur in the context of Young Men Run Amok (to steal a term from a friend), they always turn into a discussion about the 'stigma' of depression. Robin William's suicide (for example) was turned into an informal PSA campaign against depression, even though he wasn't depressed -- he was bipolar.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 3:27 PM on December 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


We see it around the globe: a shift from seeing depression, anxiety, and other disorders as shameful personality flaws, and toward understanding them as the illnesses they are.

This is a false dichotomy! There's another possibility: that they aren't illnesses, they're natural responses to real problems with life. In many, many cases we need to stop talking about pills and "illnesses" and start talking about abuse, lack of autonomy, isolation, meaninglessness, power imbalances, poverty, trauma, loss... I could go on. We're not just bags of genes and neurotransmitters, we're human beings who sometimes suffer for reasons unconnected to biological flaws or personality failures. If you actually look in the literature, the illness perspective has surprisingly little evidence to support it.

What's more, biogenetic explanations don't even decrease stigma, they reduce blame. Here's a study that actually looked at what these explanations do.

From the abstract:
Promoting biogenetic explanations to alleviate blame may induce pessimism and set the stage for self-fulfilling prophecies that could hamper recovery from psychological problems.
And here's another that argues biological explanations decrease clinician empathy.

Graaaaah!
posted by Wemmick at 3:46 PM on December 7, 2015 [12 favorites]


that they aren't illnesses, they're natural responses to real problems with life.

I think it's way more nuanced than this. There's clinical depression and situational depression for example - neither should be stigmatized, but one is an illness and one is a natural response to real problems with life.

I had clinical depression - I had major sleep problems (this was only five-six years ago, but no one told me about sleep terrors so I thought I was going insane), memory gaps, psychomotor retardation, extreme fatigue and abdominal pain.

Sometimes even in the best of times I can be a bit of a nihilist, but that's nothing like clinical depression.
posted by sweetkid at 3:52 PM on December 7, 2015 [9 favorites]


There's clinical depression and situational depression for example - neither should be stigmatized, but one is an illness and one is a natural response to real problems with life.

If that distinction helps, absolutely. For me, I feel like there's even more room inside the distinction, for more separating-out, that gets closer to Wemmick's point. I want to say that the label "clinical" (again, for me) sort of sets into motion a strict way of defining depression, separating out one way of feeling as an illness which has to live in the medical realm, from the other way of feeling which gets to be given words like "natural" and "real". Because I don't think any of us would dispute that since it's all happening inside our bodies, it is natural no matter what, right? And that sometimes it really is situations that send us into deep, severe, lasting pain. I always want to be careful equating discomfort, severity of discomfort, with a word like "clinical," because there are a couple of different dimensions here, wanting medical help/not wanting medical help, vs not severe/severe, vs situational/idiopathic.

(and someone else could take it still further, dividing it up based on their own experience and thought, or throwing out our categories entirely!)
posted by mittens at 4:27 PM on December 7, 2015 [1 favorite]


No, I didn't really think I needed help understanding the definition of depression. Wemmick's point seemed to be we're all doing it wrong "Gaaahh" or whatever.

In many, many cases we need to stop talking about pills and "illnesses"

I don't think without knowledge of specifics of a person's situation we should say what people should "stop talking" about, It's a miracle anyone's talking at all.
posted by sweetkid at 4:33 PM on December 7, 2015 [7 favorites]


On the one hand, it makes sense that they've decided to exclude autism from mental health week because it's not a mental illness, but on the other, I find it frustrating that discussion of autism and mental health must be kept separate in this way. I mean, I have one brain; I don't experience these things as discrete, and the fact that they're entangled complicates some popular narratives about mental illness. It's not a bad decision at all, just one I personally find frustrating.
posted by thetortoise at 5:07 PM on December 7, 2015 [4 favorites]


Anything anybody's doing to try to destigmatize mental illness and open up some air and sunshine around the topic is good in my book. Thanks, BuzzFeed!

There's clinical depression and situational depression for example

Is this really the standard way to frame the distinction? The way I've always understood it, it's the intensity of the depression that makes it clinical or not. Basically, if it requires medication to manage or recover from, it's clinical. The cause of any particular depressive episode is a different thing altogether. I've been treated clinically for depression, but it was a situational depression: my mother died of cancer just when we were reestablishing our relationship after years of forced estrangement; my wife and I suffered dozens of painful pregnancy losses before and after that tragedy, including a painful late loss due to a severe abnormality that meant our expected child would have died shortly after birth (severe anencephaly), our band broke up shortly after that due to divorce, which also hurt us socially at a time when we were already struggling with the emotional fallout from those other issues (the divorcing couple had been our closest friends and bandmates until then, and as always happens, people took sides). My wife suffered a loss of income and we became increasingly financially stressed. Etc. All this happened in the space of just a couple/few years. All those traumas caused me to slip into an intense depression that lasted for a few years until medication, therapy, and the birth of our first child managed to help me recover for a few years (until marriage troubles, financial stress, more fallout from my complex family situation, and a lot of really ugly work politics stuff caused me to slip into a severe addictive disorder I only recovered from after an intervention three and a half years ago, when our second child was born).

My depression was definitely situational, but it was also intense enough to require medication during the worst of it. When times are good, I'm capable of being happy and healthy--but the good times seem to be pretty hard to come by these days... Point being, any depression that's clinically treated (as opposed to treated through therapy or counseling) is clinical, as I understand the term. Is that not the conventional place to draw the distinction?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:48 PM on December 7, 2015 [2 favorites]


(To be clear, not trying to explain how it should be here, but only to probe the depths of my own ignorance...)
posted by saulgoodman at 9:13 PM on December 7, 2015


It's interesting that some of you see a real distinction between talking about bipolar and talking about depression. I often use "depression" in conversation as a catchall for mood disorders, which may not be a great thing to do, and may just reflect my experience (been diagnosed with both at points, but it usually comes back to treatment-refractory depression). I don't have anything substantial to say about it; it's just interesting.

Also, I really like this and want to put it here so I remember it:

Look at the verbs in the buzzfeed headlines for this: "dealing," "recovering," "struggling," "coping." The narrative is that you must always be doing something with your illness. But what if you just want to sit still with it?
posted by thetortoise at 1:05 AM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I wasn't "drawing a distinction." I was just saying that people can have situational depression around something that sucks, and that's not an illness necessarily (though it could be if it rises to any definition of clinical depression).

It was a response to the poster who was absolutely sure that we should not talk about illness and pills because of a few studies that don't even say specifically that.
posted by sweetkid at 6:31 AM on December 8, 2015


There's another possibility: that they aren't illnesses, they're natural responses to real problems with life. In many, many cases we need to stop talking about pills and "illnesses" and start talking about abuse, lack of autonomy, isolation, meaninglessness, power imbalances, poverty, trauma, loss... I could go on.

Yeeahhhhhh... I'm gonna back up sweetkid on this and say it's more nuanced than all that. I'm an incredibly privileged person, my family life is the best anyone could ever hope for, basically all of those factors you listed for me were A+. And yet. Being bipolar... not being able to make sense of why you feel the way you do, not being able to figure out why you're miserable and want to die when everything is great, not being able to stop yourself from sabotaging situations, and hating yourself and being frustrated that you can't force yourself to feel differently, that was almost more crazy-making than being bipolar in the first place. These were definitely not "natural responses to real problems". Hands-down, I would not be here today without "pills". I don't think that's something we should just stop talking about.

I mean... I guess I get where you're coming from... I don't know about "in many, many cases", but I definitely know that's not mine.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 7:35 AM on December 8, 2015 [13 favorites]


Bipolar is real, but sometimes the situational kinds of depression get mistaken for the chronic condition in treatment. People are complicated.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:58 AM on December 8, 2015


It seems to me that there's so much need for EVERYTHING in the area of mental illness, that this is the type of problem where "get a shovel" is an appropriate response. There's so much work to be done. So Buzzfeed has gone and gotten a shovel, and because they are who they are and have the strengths they have, it's a particular type of shovel. Good for them.
posted by elizilla at 9:05 AM on December 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think part of the issue with ignoring psychotic disorders and other severe mental illness in initiatives like this is that it can further stigmatize severe mental illness, in a sort of "Normal people may have depression, but people with schizophrenia are all crazies who are going to kill you" sort of way. And as long as any mental illness is that stigmatized, it ends up with all mental illness being stigmatized.
posted by jaguar at 9:13 AM on December 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's interesting that some of you see a real distinction between talking about bipolar and talking about depression.

Apart from the differences in diagnostic criteria and treatment (bipolar involves mood swings and mania; it's also often made worse with SSRIs), I think there's a real difference in public perception. I wrote up and deleted a longer comment about this last night, but I think that American laypeople (probably unintentionally) draw a distinction between three kinds of mental illnesses -- "curable" disorders, "personality quirks," and "permanent illnesses." Depression is seen as a short-term thing -- the central narrative involves treatment and then recovery. It's possible to speak of "battling" depression because it's seen as something that can be won. Bipolar disorder is permanent. Once you have it, you're going to be treating it for life.

Which means, I'd argue, the social taboo about discussing it is much much stronger. If I say that I was depressed as a teenager, that says nothing about my mindset at the age of fifty. If I say that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder as a teenager, the assumption is that either I still have it or that the diagnosis was false -- "recovering" from it isn't really an option. Which, in turn, means that, if I'm a CEO and I've had my bipolar disorder under control for decades, then there's no way I'm going to admit to it in public.

And as long as any mental illness is that stigmatized, it ends up with all mental illness being stigmatized.

Does it, though? If I were to decouple depression completely from the broader concept of mental illness, say, then it's no longer going to be stigmatized as a form of mental illness. (It might be stigmatized in and of itself, but that's a different thing entirely.) In some ways, that might be a good thing -- if we stopped categorizing depression as a kind of mental illness, we could stop turning discussions about mental illness into discussions about depression -- but it's definitely not going to help stigma against (say) schizophrenia.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 10:30 AM on December 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Depression is seen as a short-term thing -- the central narrative involves treatment and then recovery. It's possible to speak of "battling" depression because it's seen as something that can be won. Bipolar disorder is permanent. Once you have it, you're going to be treating it for life.

That very view of depression is limiting, because for many of us it is a life-long thing. It is a daily struggle for me. Sure, it ebbs and flows, sometimes the head spiders stop nattering so loud for a while... and then bam, they're back, and I'm in a dark apartment watching the same movie over and over again because I can't be arsed to change what's in the DVD player.

For some people, depression is a short-term beatable thing. For the rest of us, it's a voice whispering "suicide suicide suicide" in your ear all day. Every day. For your entire life.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:39 AM on December 8, 2015 [10 favorites]


It's possible to speak of "battling" depression because it's seen as something that can be won.

I mean, I guess? In my experience it seems to me that depression is more like a mental cancer.

For some, it metastasizes and compounds itself with other problems.
For some, it ends up being (relatively) benign.
For some, it goes into remission and it doesn't come back.
For some, it comes and goes as it wants to, popping in like an unwanted guest, or bursting like a diseased cyst, before being cleared away for a short while.
For some, it leads to non-standard treatments that work only due to belief, and as soon as those fail, it's worse, so much worse.

So, yeah, "beatable", "winnable", like land wars in Asia or regime changes in the Middle East.
posted by qcubed at 10:57 AM on December 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


When I say "seems to me", I mean that I spend much of my life in a state of vigilance looking out for signs that it may revisit, monsters from over the DMZ. Every now and then things happen and I fall back, and let fatalism take its course.

It's why I find it difficult to care about American mass shootings anymore, for instance. If I cared, that's more of a perimeter to defend. If I let it go, well, maybe I can keep oblivion at bay that much longer.
posted by qcubed at 11:00 AM on December 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


Does it, though? If I were to decouple depression completely from the broader concept of mental illness, say, then it's no longer going to be stigmatized as a form of mental illness. (It might be stigmatized in and of itself, but that's a different thing entirely.) In some ways, that might be a good thing -- if we stopped categorizing depression as a kind of mental illness, we could stop turning discussions about mental illness into discussions about depression -- but it's definitely not going to help stigma against (say) schizophrenia.

But depression is a mental illness. It's in the DSM, it's treated by doctors and therapists. I think it's useful to draw distinctions between some types of mental illness, in the same way we draw distinctions between some types of physical illness (you can say you're "sick" and that could mean you have a cold or that you have cancer), but it creates a false dichotomy where the "common" mental illnesses "don't really count" (which can create more stigma for people who have really severe forms of those illnesses) and where the "scary" mental illnesses are incurable and dangerous (even though many of them are treatable, even curable, and most are not dangerous). It takes the burden off the least-affected and puts more of a burden on the most-affected.

(I'm saying this as someone who dealt with Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and PTSD. All of them are under control enough now that I'm not in treatment for them, though they were severe for a period. I'm also saying this as someone who professionally treats people with severe mental illness, including Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar I Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. I see clinicians and society doing a huge disservice by putting big Us vs. Them barriers between types of mental illness.)
posted by jaguar at 11:16 AM on December 8, 2015 [11 favorites]


I mean, I'm very much in favor of reducing stigma. I just think it's important to pull everyone up with you rather than tossing the less-fortunate under the bus. Like, "I have a mental illness, and I'm not ashamed of it" vs. "I have a mental illness, and it's ok because it's just depression, not one of the dangerous ones."

(I am extremely aware depression can be dangerous, and I don't meant to imply otherwise. That's just a narrative I see get used a lot, by people who don't seem to realize how scary and dangerous depression can be.)
posted by jaguar at 11:21 AM on December 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


Yeah then there's this conversation:

"I have depression..."
"Aww okay you'll pull through this you'll make it rah rah rah"
"...and BPD"
"RUN AWAY"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:23 AM on December 8, 2015 [9 favorites]


This is kind of apropos of nothing and not really with the current thread of convo, but it's really struck me lately just how dramatically my view of myself as a (severely, though less so now because thanks medication) bipolar person clashes with the general public perception of bipolar people and how the term 'bipolar' is used to describe people. And how my view of schizophrenia as someone with a severely schizophrenic close relative is different from public perception.

Like people (who don't know) will say things sometimes that make it clear that their view of bipolar people is that they are 'super crazy' and 'scary' and 'run away' and I'm just standing there like......... Anyway I dunno why I'm feeling the need to express it but it's so weird and baffling and jarring every single time. I usually tell them anyway because fuck them, but I digress. (no one has ever apologized or acknowledged it really. also interestingly, it seems like a lot of people choose not to believe I'm even mentally ill. like they think I'm making it up because I don't 'seem bipolar' to them? stigma catch 22, man. people are bizarre)

And I think to some degree that's why I get defensive for people with the 'scarier' diagnoses. Because, while severe, I don't think for the most part anyone would have ever described my symptoms as 'scary'. Except, I guess, when it came to the very real chance for self-harm (sorry Mom and Dad). I'm one of those "scary mentally ill people" because of the label of my particular diagnosis/severity, but I don't think anyone, at any point, would have ever considered me to actually be scary. And I think that deserves attention, because it's incredibly common.

I do sometimes worry that, by saying things like 'stigma is still perpetuated by focusing only on outwardly violent mentally ill' I'm throwing the violently mentally ill under the bus. They're still suffering, and they still need to be addressed and supported. But at the same time, the failure of organizations that should know better (looking at you local NPR station) to include any openly neurodivergent people in a lot of their discussions on mental illness/neurodivergence (autism, etc.), and instead to talk only to the parents, relatives, mental health care professionals, etc., of the violently/severely mentally ill and to only talk about neurodivergent people not coping and how hard that is on the people around them, to me it feels like they're doing it wrong.

I have a lot of scattered thoughts and not a lot of answers. I find myself trying to balance a sort of 'any call to end mental illness stigma is great' with 'maybe this is actually fucking it up more', the sort of baby, bathwater thing someone commented on upthread. But I wonder where the threshold is on that, and I have no idea if I'm on the right side of it. Because man, that NPR segment really burned me.

(sidenote: regardless of the outcome I always feel a little bolstered when the 'we need to have this discussion' discussion comes up--I was going to contribute something better but I'm all unfocused today and the ol' thoughts are kind of hard to organize)
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 11:52 AM on December 8, 2015 [7 favorites]


I mean, I'm very much in favor of reducing stigma. I just think it's important to pull everyone up with you rather than tossing the less-fortunate under the bus.

Oh, I fully agree. But "we're all in this together" as a narrative only happens if no one is privileged enough to split off from the group. I don't think that splitting off depression or anxiety is a good thing, but I think there's a ton of people who would rather do it, and so I think it'll happen.

For some people, depression is a short-term beatable thing. For the rest of us, it's a voice whispering "suicide suicide suicide" in your ear all day. Every day. For your entire life.

Yup. That sucks a lot. For me, bipolar is HULK RAGE at very inappropriate moments. Guess which one no one with a career is going to admit to, ever? (I once read a post by Elizabeth Bear in which she mentioned she did the same, and I nearly cried.)

If you want to see depression as stigmatized, be my guest. But there are some disorders that get first-person narratives published in the health section of the NYTimes, and some that get cartoons talking about "this is what it's like to have xyz!" that people link to on Facebook, and other disorders that just don't. That's not because those disorders don't exist -- they do -- and that's not because they're orders of magnitude rarer than the ones that get talked about. That's (probably) not even because everyone who has them is non-functional. What I'm trying to get you to do -- apparently very poorly -- is to ask yourself why.

Speaking of hulk rage, this is turning into a pile-on. I'm out.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 12:00 PM on December 8, 2015


(I am extremely aware depression can be dangerous, and I don't meant to imply otherwise. That's just a narrative I see get used a lot, by people who don't seem to realize how scary and dangerous depression can be.)

Yeah and this is part of the problem, too. Some of the big issues I see at current:

- "Safe" (again, not actually safe) mental illnesses--in my experience typically depression, anxiety disorders, even OCD--are reduced to either personality quirks, 'not that serious', adorably awkward, etc. Undeniably harmful for people struggling with those as they're de-legitimized or triviliazed.
- "Scary" mental illnesses--bipolar, schizophrenia, BPD--are demonized. Predictable stigmatization.
- A focus on only the violently mentally ill perpetuates this narrative that mental illness = violence. Predictable stigmatization. This is part of why we end up with "the shooter was mentally ill" as a knee-jerk and often inaccurate response... and a scapegoat and excuse not to talk about gun control.
- The violent mentally ill still need support but they, also, are demonized. I don't know what to do about this and I don't want to throw them under the bus. The only thing I can think of is pushing for a better healthcare network. I don't know how to change perception on this from "the crazies need to be locked up", which I hear frequently and horrifying-ly.
- A focus on the stories of parents, caretakers etc. (please don't think I don't appreciate what some of these people go through, their experience is also difficult I'm sure but still) irritates me personally and I also think doesn't help much.


I really hope no one feels like I'm trivializing how difficult, dangerous, and/or terrifying any of these can be, but this is an attitude I see perpetuated within the general public and that's a serious problem.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 12:12 PM on December 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


some that get cartoons talking about "this is what it's like to have xyz!"

And to heap on the injustice, they're BAD CARTOONS*. They're not funny, they aren't actually what it's like, and they're saccharine. They have happy endings. Ugh. They just make me want to die.

And then I feel guilty because I guess these are my fellow anxiety-people and I've just totally insulted their work and if someone did that to me I would crawl away sobbing, so what kind of jerk am I to have such thoughts?

Of course I look back at my own cartoons, having given up on the whole idea of pursuing them a few years ago, and am kind of in wonder at my own shallowness and inability to communicate soul-crushing sorrow and fear via the medium of a one-panel gag.


*NB: not all these are bad, and there's a couple i actually like, but the end about how we're not all alone after reading 20 or so people whose anxiety is apparently not the same as mine actually does make me feel much more alone
posted by mittens at 1:18 PM on December 8, 2015


Whenever there's a new mass media mental health awareness drive, I can't help but look forward to their extensve coverage of "safe", understandable, approachable conditions - depression, anxiety, ADHD, maybe OCD or eating disorders or high-functioning autism if they feel like branching out

Buzzfeed recently posted a series of interviews about living with schizophrenia, and have had a tag for bipolar for a while - if you scroll down you'll see their posts got significantly better in recent years.
posted by fermezporte at 4:04 PM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


"get cartoons talking about "this is what it's like to have xyz!"
I'm with you on the unfairness of NYT coverage but the "getting cartoons" bit is really dismissive of people who make cartoons to share their own experience with depression.

It's weird that we're seeing all this "people with depression have mental illness privilege" stuff in here.
posted by sweetkid at 4:15 PM on December 8, 2015


Weird, and nevertheless on the spectrum of mental illnesses, situational depression, or relatively mild lifelong depression, do get more money and attention and empathy than other diseases that are harder to relate to.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:18 PM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sure, but this kind of feels like what it felt like when I was really young and figured I couldn't have depression ot anxiety because I liked being around people and was friendly, talkative and independent. People would tell me I couldn't have it because x and y and it wasn't "real" depression like they had. So I did nothing about it all through my twenties which I regret.

I fear if we shuffle depression into "oh that's the easy thing to have" it diminishes the experience and prevents people from getting help. Why would we want that?
posted by sweetkid at 4:24 PM on December 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think a number of us are saying that shuffling depression into the "easy thing to have" is a bad thing, while also recognizing there's a huge range of mental health disorders.
posted by jaguar at 4:31 PM on December 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


"they get cartoons about xyz" is pretty dismissive when you think about the work and emotional expenditure that goes into something like Allie Brosh's posts on depression at Hyperbole and a Half. I'm just saying we could avoid that.
posted by sweetkid at 4:34 PM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think part of the issue is that a lot of the destigmatizing campaigns either minimize depression and anxiety or catastrophize schizophrenia, or both, which ends up pitting people with mental-health disorders against each other, which puts everyone in a crappy position and leads to the assumption of weird hierarchies.
posted by jaguar at 4:37 PM on December 8, 2015 [5 favorites]


So, sweetkid... people with various mental illnesses should avoid being honest about how stigmatization affects them? That seems pretty bizarre, to me. The poster who made the original point about cartoons was hitting a solid truth, for me. There are cartoons about depression (and rah rah the sun will come out tomorrow blah blah blah). There aren't any about BPD, which has arguably had far more destructive and long-ranging effects on my life.

One of those disorders is okay to talk about. The other one gets compared to Single White Female. I am certainly not going to avoid speaking my truth on that subject, and I don't see why the poster who talked--not dismissively, btw--about cartoons should either.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:39 PM on December 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


I saw something about BPD - if you're talking about borderline - that was kind of a cartoon or animation or something that I think was posted here. It was pretty interesting. I find borderline pretty hard to understand, especially because in Ask questions related to it people are pretty stigmatizing (RUN etc).


So, sweetkid... people with various mental illnesses should avoid being honest about how stigmatization affects them? That seems pretty bizarre, to me.


yes, that would be bizarre if that were what I said. I'm just being honest about my own reaction.
posted by sweetkid at 4:42 PM on December 8, 2015


Then I'm totally confused as to what you are saying, because it seemed like that person was speaking directly about their own experiences and you said we could be avoiding what they were saying.

And you're kinda being dismissive about cartoons existing about BPD. There are precious few, there are vanishingly few mainstream articles or anything about what BPD actually is, and you're trivializing my own experience and my own frustration about seeing virtually nothing but negative portrayals by pointing out oh, there is one somewhere maybe.

Simple fact: depression has been put about as a 'safe' mental illness. Yes it is being destigmatized and that is a good thing. And at the same time, it's leaving a lot of other unwell people in the dust because those disorders (like BPD) are 'scary.' That causes problems for those of us who have disorders that aren't, for lack of a better term, socially acceptable, and speaking for me personally it's deeply frustrating to see so much out there about half of my major diagnosis and how it can be overcome.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:48 PM on December 8, 2015 [2 favorites]


Or maybe just reread what you yourself wrote before telling us what to avoid talking about?

"I don't think without knowledge of specifics of a person's situation we should say what people should "stop talking" about, It's a miracle anyone's talking at all."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:51 PM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


This thread makes me feel like the rabbi in the old joke who told two people arguing that they were both right, and when a third guy said "but rabbi, they can't both be right," was like, "hmm. You're right too." sweetkid's points about depression and fffm's about BPD and s-ss's about bipolar all seem valid to me. I do think this is a complication of mental health awareness weeks, which collapse a bunch of different disorders and disabilities that are regarded in different ways by the public into one event. But even for a single diagnosis, our personal experiences are going to be radically different.
posted by thetortoise at 5:05 PM on December 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


And you're kinda being dismissive about cartoons existing about BPD. There are precious few, there are vanishingly few mainstream articles or anything about what BPD actually is, and you're trivializing my own experience and my own frustration about seeing virtually nothing but negative portrayals by pointing out oh, there is one somewhere maybe.

You misunderstand me. I really liked that post. I wish I remembered what it was. I would gladly read more about BPD.

Your fight is not here.
posted by sweetkid at 5:07 PM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]



Or maybe just reread what you yourself wrote before telling us what to avoid talking about?

"I don't think without knowledge of specifics of a person's situation we should say what people should "stop talking" about, It's a miracle anyone's talking at all."


This was specifically to the person who said we should stop talking about illnesses and pills.

we need to stop talking about pills and "illnesses"


that's what I was responding to.
posted by sweetkid at 5:09 PM on December 8, 2015 [1 favorite]


sweetkid and anyone else interested and/or has had difficulties understanding BPD, there was a single tumblr post on BPD that was instantly enlightening to me about relationship object permanence. even just that phrase made so many things make sense. I am still working on understanding to the best of my capabilities, but that post was super helpful

feckless fear mongering, I did briefly just want to say, it's really come to my attention in the last 5 years or so how badly stigmatized BPD is. I honestly think it gets the worst rap of most of the mental illnesses I see talked about. even among more-educated-in-these-matters crowds, and that's immensely upsetting even to me so I can't really imagine how frustrating it might be for you. i'm sorry for that.

for what it's worth, I see more and more discussion about it on places like tumblr from BPD people themselves but getting circulated thru the general user base. I'm hoping it's having a positive effect--it's educated me immensely in the past couple of years--but again I feel like the word has only really started spreading very far pretty recently.
posted by suddenly, and without warning, at 9:46 PM on December 8, 2015 [6 favorites]


This is a tricky thing to get into, but, following on what s,aww says above, I suspect that one of the things contributing to stigma about BPD is that so many of the books and articles that make it into the popular consciousness are written by people who were in relationships with someone who had it and are trying to warn people away (do a search on Amazon, it's soooo many). I don't doubt that there is a need for this kind of literature, but the cumulative effect of it, as well as the fact that it's not balanced by a wealth of popular works by people who openly have BPD and attention given to their voices, contributes to a distorted and excessively negative perception, especially when some of the writing seems to be by people who have no particular clinical experience and are "diagnosing" a past partner after the fact.

Asperger's is not as stigmatized in that way as BPD (though it has its own problems) but I experienced an analogue of this when my partner (who is neurotypical) picked up a random book about relationships with people with Asperger's. It turned out to not be a negotiating-relationship-stuff therapy book at all, but a big rant about how folks with ASD are impossible to be in a relationship with and invariably abusive, bolstered by personal stories about the author's ex-husband, her child, and her mother (the mother was also pretty clearly never diagnosed, even self-diagnosed, with autism, and I'm not sure about the husband, either). The chapter on divorce basically said that all neuro-mixed couples get there eventually, and good riddance. My partner and I were pretty appalled by it and it didn't reflect our relationship at all. It still bothers me to think about, and I can't imagine how much worse that is for BPD and other personality disorders, because there's a lot more writing out there like that and fewer prominent advocacy networks.
posted by thetortoise at 10:15 PM on December 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


I think that a huge part of the issue with BPD is that the clinical community has also been obnoxiously stigmatizing of the disorder. I see that changing, slowly, which I think is due in large part to DBT becoming more widespread and clinicians (again, slowly) coming around to the idea that personality disorders can be curable and certainly are treatable. I'm sure there was client advocacy happening in there, too, though I'm admittedly ignorant on that side of it.
posted by jaguar at 10:35 PM on December 8, 2015 [4 favorites]


thanks for the link, s,aww. This rings so goddamn true
(seriously, don’t ever intentionally ignore a borderline person. when you do that, you are intentionally triggering someone. please understand that nothing feels worse for a borderline person than being ignored. i understand sometimes these things can happen by accident, which is ok, but doing it on purpose is nothing short of cruel.)
Being ignored is the one thing guaranteed to drive me into a horrible spiral. Ignoring someone is probably the worst thing you can do to anyone; it's saying "you're not even worth the time it takes to say fuck off." It's horrific.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 9:18 PM on December 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


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