Why Anti-Authoritarians are Diagnosed as Mentally Ill

Bruce Levine:

In my career as a psychologist, I have talked with hundreds of people previously diagnosed by other professionals with oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder and other psychiatric illnesses, and I am struck by (1) how many of those diagnosed are essentially anti-authoritarians, and (2) how those professionals who have diagnosed them are not.

Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority -- sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.

Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society's most oppressive authorities. [...]

I have found that most psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals are not only extraordinarily compliant with authorities but also unaware of the magnitude of their obedience. And it also has become clear to me that the anti-authoritarianism of their patients creates enormous anxiety for these professionals, and their anxiety fuels diagnoses and treatments.

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9 Responses:

  1. I'm not too worried with the crop of "Millennials" running around my campus today and don't even get me started on the batch that's going through "attachment parenting" right now. The kids will be alright...

  2. Nick Lamb says:

    "I don't have a problem, the world has a problem" -> You have a problem. Maybe it isn't "your fault" in some sense, but it's your problem. Is this guy just not a very good psychologist? I was wondering that and then he pulled the Einstein card. So now I know he's terrible at arguing on the Internet, I will leave it up to other psychologists to figure out whether he's any good as a psychologist.

  3. MD says:

    So on the extreme other end in psychiatry, there's this opinion: "The Myth of Mental Illness" by Thomas Szasz, which is a classic in psychology if not widely accepted.


    I think one of the troubles here is that the classification of mental illness involves the idea of "mal-adaptivity". I.e. if some behavior in your life is not adaptive, or is causing you trouble or anguish (such as pulling your hair out, being depressed all of the time) that's one of the signals that you're dealing with a mental illness that you'd want to treat; modify the behavior or thought, and improve life.

    Anti-authoritarian people display mal-adaptive behaviors. What they do gets them into trouble, and they probably suffer as a result of their behavior. While that doesn't make them crazy, it is a key component of the classification system that determines whether or not the practice thinks they're crazy.

    You'll see a different aspect of this problem in these two paragraphs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diagnostic_and_Statistical_Manual_of_Mental_Disorders#Superficial_symptoms

    We're on the horns of a dilemma: most people acknowledge that there is such thing as mental illness, and that we need to detect it based on behaviors, and their negative outcomes on the individual in question. But I definitely don't think people who are generally anti-authoritarian are crazy. (There are people who just say fuck you to the world at every single turn, in completely irrational ways, who destroy themselves and can be described as anti-authoritarian, but who are also certifiably bat-shit crazy)

    You're exiting the "science" of psychology, and entering the art part, which is subject to society's changing whims.

  4. Reminded me a bit of a blog post Karen Franklin made a while back about Jonathan Metzl's "The Protest Psychosis": thttp://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/witness/201011/how-the-black-man-became-schizophrenic

  5. Walt Hougas says:

    I had a close childhood friend who had a lot of difficulty dealing with any kind of authority. I admired his intelligence, if not his need to stir up trouble.

    I was saddened, but not surprised to find out a couple of years ago that he had committed suicide.

    Probably my friend suffered from some degree of treatable mental illness, but it would have taken a truly exceptional therapist to help him because I'm certain he would have resisted any attempt that labeled him as the source of his problem. FWIW, both of his parents were alcoholics, as he became himself.

  6. So, in summary, this guy wrote "Why We Shouldn't Burn Agnostics Who Aren't Atheists". In theory, a psychiatric diagnosis is a guess, an offer of help (which the author admits is good when he talks about anti-authoritarians benefitting from the drugs they are prescribed based on their diagnosis), and not, usually, much more. In practice it comes with a massive helping of The Stigma, but that's a problem that won't be helped by excluding some people from the stigmatized group.

    And the article doesn't make much sense unless you accept that point of view from the beginning, that it's a horrible insult to be diagnosed with a mental illness and it's better to be dead than mentally ill, or at least mentally ill and diagnosed.

    many natural anti-authoritarians [might now be] psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities

    Psychopathologized, yes: The Stigma pretty much means you become an outcast without a political lobby, or any realistic hope of attaining political influence. But medicated? Unless this guy's got a lot of research papers coming up proposing, at least, a potential mechanism by which psychopharmacological interventions prevent you from achieving political consciousness (hint: include all the people whose lives are saved by drugs and who achieve political consciousness because of drugs), he's just repeating a stereotype there, and one that's part of The Stigma: psychotropic drugs stop you being human, even if the mental illness they're prescribed for doesn't.

    TL;DR "We shouldn't burn Jews who've converted to Christianity! They're not really Jews!"

  7. Bruce Levine could be having some mental issues, see: he's clearly having paranoid delusions based on his cryptofascist fantasies.

    This should be diagnosed and treated by a professional.