Why it’s a problem: We should absolutely support people who want help changing behaviors that may be causing challenges in their lives, but the idea that “your bad behavior is rooted in X diagnosis” is itself rooted in ableism and a pathologizing mindset. This article in The Washington Post contains a lot of pathologizing language, such as describing autism as a “mental condition.” (It’s not. It’s actually a neurotype, though autism is considered a developmental disorder by people who view us through a medicalized lens). Although there is some good advice in this article, such as “allowing an autistic person to decide whether ‘overtalking’ is actually an issue for [them],” it’s unfortunate that the author doesn’t allow the same agency for people who live with bipolar disorder, which is also a form of neurodivergence, and instead suggests that overtalking may be a sign of mental illness.

These “warning sign” articles fascinate me, if only because the media often indicates little to no self-awareness regarding its long and problematic history covering mental health issues. To take a different behavior as an example, last year during the Elizabeth Holmes trial, everyone in the media was talking about how her deep voice was a sign of her criminal mind. Yet recently I listened to an interview on NPR during which the host gushed about the actor Christine Baranski, who assiduously cultivated the sophisticated image that she has become known for by deliberately deepening her voice at the start of her career. One may argue that Baranski is a performer, and that actors are always experimenting with different voices. However, Baranski always uses her deep voice in public, both on and off the stage. Famous non-actors have also changed their voices to further their careers. For example, if you watch early Khan Academy videos, it’s very easy to deduce that Salman Khan has worked on deepening his voice. So, it’s frustrating how the same behavior can be viewed as pathology depending on the person who is being judged. Because people already disliked Elizabeth Holmes, there was a strong bias to interpret her voice change in a negative light, as a sign of a manipulative con artist. And ultimately, this is why no matter how many times we are told by “the experts” that their lists of signs and symptoms are dependent on context, in practice they are very much dependent on people’s motivations in relation to the person being judged.


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