So, there’s this pattern. People hear about someone doing a horrible thing, or being systemically abusive to another person, or being bigoted, or being generally hateful, violent, or evil, and then express their disapproval by saying things like:
- She *needs help*
- He needs serious therapy
- I hope he gets the help she needs
And, that’s a horrible thing to say. Because mental illness is not the same as being an abuser. Having a mental illness is not a moral failing, and treating others horribly is not a mental illness. Conflating those categories hurts people badly.
Some people do need therapy, medication, or other forms of treatment. Some people who need mental health treatment are also terrible people, but that is not because of their mental illness. It’s because of their choices and values. And many abusers and other dangerous people are not mentally ill at all.
Many, many good people struggle with serious mental illness and depend on medical treatment. Similarly, many good people struggle with mental illness and have no access to treatment for various reasons (eg: lack of insurance, lack of safe providers, fear of losing their jobs due to stigma). These people deserve better than to have their struggles thrown up as a way to insult abusers.
Mental illness is real, serious, and horribly stigmatized. It is not the same as being an abuser, and it’s really important to stop equating the two.
It really bugs me when people tell others to go to therapy as a way of insulting them or telling them there’s something wrong with them. And then say that they mean well and just want that person to get better.
I recently got a loved one into therapy. It’s hard on everyone, and it’s the beginning of a long and arduous process and it’s still super stigmatized.
While all of that is true, there are people whose socially maladaptive or harmful actions are in part due to mental illnesses, which could often be helped by therapy. I know a number of people who are lovely overall, but who can enter fits of rage and even become somewhat abusive during difficult mental health times. I am also saying this as someone with a pretty serious diagnosed mental illness—I have a vested interest in mental illnesses being taken seriously and not stigmatized.
While it’s obviously no good to treat mental illness and behaving badly/abusively as the same thing (in the vast majority of cases, there’s no connection), there are cases where mental illness negatively impacts interpersonal relationships and behaviors, and in those cases, therapy could be seriously helpful.
Also, I’m well aware that most people who say “S/he needs therapy” aren’t actually expressing concern for the person in question—I’m just pointing out that saying that all bad/maladaptive behavior is completely ”because of [the perpetrator’s] choices and values,” without any input from other stressors like mental illnesses, is a little overly simplistic.
Mental illness definitely can complicate all aspects of life, including interacting with other people.
Or, in simpler terms: having some forms of mental illness can sometimes make it harder to treat others well.
And for some people who have mental illnesses that make it harder, getting therapy or medical treatment can make it a lot easier to treat other people well. That’s important to acknowledge.
It’s also the case that people with really intractable mental illness can still learn to treat others well. Not all mental illness is currently treatable; not all people with intractable mental illness are jerks. Even people with intractable mood disorders.
Even when therapy or medical treatment helps, it doesn’t work in the way that people who say “he needs ~help~” as an insult think it works. It’s not, like, someone goes to therapy or gets medicated and then the treatment fixes their illness and makes them into a good person.
Good mental health treatment can help people to function better, including treating others better. But it’s not magic, and it’s not direct, and “he needs ~serious help~” is not referring to that.