Yes. Duh. Curing mental disorders would help millions of people and end so much human suffering related to mental health or a lack thereof. However, that being said, I can’t seem to get the concept of ableism, and whether or not it relates to this question, out of my head. This semester, I am also taking a course about teaching children with special needs, and in that course we have explored this concept of ableism, the notion that “normal” is best, that anything that makes a person other than “normal” is bad. While I would assume that many of us would claim to not hold such a view, that instead we welcome diversity, I question whether we actually do welcome it in its many and varied forms. Mental disability adds to the diversity of the human race (Hehir 2005)—someone with a mental disability may well see that disability not so much as a curse but as part of who he is, an important aspect of his identity, just as another person might view his skin color or personality that way (Hehir 2005).
When we, as scientists and members of the medical community, use words like “cure” with respect to disabilities, it may sound like a threat to the identity of someone with a disability, someone like Harlyn Rousso, an accomplished psychologist who suffered from cerebral palsy. She explained that her “disability, with [her] different walk and talk and involuntary movements, having been with [her] all [her] life, was part of [her], part of [her] identity. With these disability features [she] felt whole. [Her] mother’s attempt to change [her] walk, strange as it may seem, felt like an assault on [her]self, an incomplete acceptance of [her], an attempt to make [her] over” (1984). Rousso felt attacked by a mother who, in trying to protect her from “endless teasing and rejection,” had intentions as good as those of any doctor or researcher trying more generally to “cure” disability (Rousso 1984).
Even if the medical community has the commendable goal of eliminating obstacles from peoples’ lives, if a disability represents part of a person’s inherent nature, is trying to remove that disability okay — especially if the person has not asked for it to be removed? I understand the desire to help individuals lead lives that are less complicated and painful, and to do so certainly makes sense to me for patients with severe disorders such as schizophrenia, but what about people with autism, deafness, or cerebral palsy? Where should the line be drawn? Using language that implies a need to cure these diverse ”abnormal” characteristics that some may feel constitute important parts of who they are, parts intrinsic to their identities, as Seung does, is indicative of an ableist attitude that may be discriminatory to many groups of peoples with physical, emotional, or mental disabilities.
Rouss, H. (1984). Fostering healthy self esteem: Part one. Exceptional Parent, 14(8), 9-14.
Hehir, T. (2005) New directions in special education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Seung, S. (2012) Connectome: How the brain’s wiring makes us who we are. New York, NY: First Mariner Books.