Why it’s a problem: This letter to an advice columnist in The Guardian continues a long history in the West of decentering the voices of disabled people in favor of the family members who complain of the burden of living with them. In this letter, the author implies that her mother’s depression causes her to be “hateful towards everyone” so that she “tries to turn everyone against each other and has frequent tantrums.” The mother may very well benefit from therapy, but it’s very inappropriate to attribute all these behaviors to depression, or to imply that treating depression will cure all of their relationship problems. This contributes to the ableist practice of attributing all bad behaviors to someone’s disability.

Even worse, these attitudes about mental illness as the root of all evil contribute to a harmful culture of toxic positivity that is taking over all aspects of our lives. I often think about a documentary I watched a few years ago on the infamous real estate company, WeWork, which had a Happiness Clause in their employees’ contracts. In one case, documented in the film, an employee/whistleblower exposed deep problems in the company’s finances on a blog, upon which the employee was fired based on violating the Happiness Clause.

Increasingly, there is a mindset in American life that “YOU MUST BE HAPPY or else you are a danger to the community!” People who are unhappy about the grotesque levels of income inequality in America, the forever wars, climate change, anthropogenic mass extinction, or people who are struggling because of these crises, or people who are struggling without financial or physical security, or people who have been abused or sexually harassed, are often told that they are mentally ill.


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