Via Popular Resistance, psychologist Bruce E. Levine on when questioning authority is seen as a psychiatric disorder:
My experience as a clinical psychologist for almost three decades is that many young people labeled with psychiatric diagnoses are essentially anarchists in spirit who are pained, anxious, depressed, and angered by coercion, unnecessary rules, and illegitimate authority.
An often-used psychiatric diagnosis for children and adolescents is oppositional defiant disorder (ODD); its symptoms include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”
I have encountered many people who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, and who are now politically conscious anarchists. Teenagers often have an affinity for anti-authoritarianism, but most do not act on their beliefs in a manner that would make them vulnerable to violent reprisals by authorities. However, I have found that many young people diagnosed with mental disorders—perhaps owing to some combination of integrity, fearlessness, and naïvity—have acted on their beliefs in ways that threaten authorities.
My experience is that most rebellious young people diagnosed with mental disorders do not [yet have political consciousness], and so they become excited to hear that there is actual political ideology that encompasses their point of view. They immediately become more whole after they discover that answering “yes” to the following questions does not mean that they suffer from a mental disorder, but instead have a certain social philosophy:
- Do you hate coercion and domination?
- Do you love freedom?
- Are you willing to risk punishments to gain freedom?
- Do you instinctively distrust large, impersonal and distant authorities?
- Do you think people should organize themselves rather than submit to authorities?
- Do you dislike being either an employer or an employee?
- Do you smile after reading the Walt Whitman quote “Obey little, resist much”?
There are at least two ways that mental health professionals can join the resistance: 1) speak out about the political role of mental health institutions in maintaining the status quo in society; and 2) depathologize and repoliticize rebellion in one’s clinical practice, which includes helping young anarchists navigate an authoritarian society without becoming self-destructive or destructive to others, and helping families build respectful, non-coercive relationships.
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