The victim is not the problem

Mental health care treatment focuses on changing the person who is suffering from mental distress. Even if the cause of the distress is abuse or racism or bullying.

On one hand, I understand this. There is no reason for the victim to have to live a miserable life just because his/her (token motion toward gender neutrality, henceforth ignored for the sake of not being awkward) abuser refuses to change. If it improves her life to avoid her abuser, to move away, to ignore what her abuser says, there is no reason for her not to do those things. I want her life to improve in any way possible.

But on the other hand, I can't help getting stuck. Changing the way the victim does things, telling her she is the one who must change, seems to tacitly accept what her abuser did. I know, I know; this is not necessarily the case, this is not always the case, but it sometimes is the case and it is something mental health care has a long history of being guilty for doing. A hundred years ago when men didn't want to deal with their wives, they sent them to the mental institution where the problem became the wife, instead of the husband. Political dissidents in the Soviet Union were locked in mental institutions to discredit their criticism of the government and imply that they, not the government, are the problem. When racism or sexism or homophobia is the problem, the mental health care professionals tell the victims they must change, often ignoring the greater problem. Strictly speaking, these victims are not ill, do not suffer from a mental illness, but are reacting in an entirely reasonable way to oppression or abuse. Putting them in mental health care implies that they are the problem and lets the abusers and oppressors off the hook.

I'm having a hard time with this. I don't want to be made miserable by the mental health care professionals who acted abusively toward me, it would be like letting them continue to abuse me. But I really really don't want to let them off the hook either. They are hurting so many people and it makes me sob when I think about it too much. I feel like I have to stop this oppression before I can do some kind of "change myself" thing to make myself feel better about it. But I'm pretty sure that will never happen. I have no ideas on how to solve this.


  1. Distress is not an illness. Many things in life cause distress, and many mentally well people are distressed, sometimes severely distressed for a long time. Even so, it is true that the distress of being a victim sometimes does cause mental illness. In that case, it is more effective to recover from the illness first before going after the perpetrator. Having recovered, you are better equipped to fight. And in any case, as the saying goes: "Revenge is a dish best served cold"

  2. However, even once I recover, I still have the brand of "mental illness" on me. That discredits me enough in the general population, but more-so among mental health care professionals. If I am pointing out something they don't see, telling them of the existence of something they don't believe in, they just point to my label and say there must be lingering symptoms. If I recover in a way that makes me more effective to fight, I still need a mental health care professional, someone on the "inside" to sponsor me, give me credibility in their eyes, give them a reason not to ignore me just because of my labels. At least, sponsorship is the only thing I've come up with to lend me that extra credibility I would need. Any other ideas?

  3. Success?

    Read some biographies of successful fighters. They focus on something particular they want to achieve.

    Fighting oppression by an institution on which you are dependent for your life might seem impossible, but it has been done in the past. Example, woman suffrage. The franchise was extended to people who didn’t have it before, which might seem impossible. Why would anyone extend power to a group they are oppressing? Yet they did.

  4. Yes.

    This is something I have thought about looking at. This situation seems most similar to civil rights. I'll have to examine the changes that have been made and how that was accomplished. I've also thought to read things like "The Pedagogy of the Oppressed" for insight and tactics.

    Focus on something particular: do you mean things like suggesting legislation and revisions to hospital policies and accreditation standards? What I am after is so amorphous, as are civil rights issues, so I can look to their battle.

    Thank you!

  5. I found this book really helpful when thinking about some of the issues around oppression.


    I dont know if you've read it? It's quite UK-based in it's orientation, but not entirely


  6. Nowadays mental distress is quite common because expectations of every people are growing day by day. When people don’t get whatever they required strongly then they suffer from mental distress. It may be because of family problems, joblessness etc. The patient must be told to exercise his willpower to get rid of mental distress. People must be told that they are getting better. Psychological impressions must be created on their mind which will help to understand that his disease is not incurable. Suggestion is the best thing in such circumstances. I found very informative stuff regarding mental distress here http://www.mynetpharma.com/social-factors-causing-mental-distress-in-men.html