If you are an avid social media user, such as myself, you have been exposed to a myriad of opinions that challenge your own. From the benign, “Does pineapple go on pizza?” To the dangerous, “Are Black people inherently more violent?” A topic I often see that borders on side-eye worthy, to “You are why people are dying,” is that “depression is a choice.”
The people espousing depression or any mental illness being a choice usually fall into two categories: the “Just think positive” crowd and the “Big pharma is out to make everyone mindless sheep” crowd. While there are logical reasons to question the pharmaceutical industry, I do not have the energy nor the desire to debunk conspiracy theories. So for this post, I will be addressing the positivity evangelicals.
These people often flat out deny the existence of mental illness. Whether by using religion, metaphysics, anecdotal tales, or a combination of all three, they willfully ignore the lived experiences of those affected by a mental illness and actual science. They are the flat earthers of psychology.
Reading through their tweet threads, Instagram memes, and Facebook comments there are some things that become very apparent. They have an air of superiority about themselves. The same way those that chastize people living in poverty do. Much like classists refuse to acknowledge that there is a system in place to keep poor people poor, positivity junkies refuse to acknowledge that we can’t control our brain activity and brain chemistry through sheer willpower.
There is also the denial of empirically founded evidence that countless people go out of their way to provide them. Just as flat-earthers will tell you that NASA is not showing you real images from space and is a tool of the government to control us, the positivity police will tell you that decades of research, brain imaging, and peer-reviewed journal are a tool that “they” use to keep us scared and hopeless. The #2WokeCrew doesn’t believe any information if it hasn’t come from a YouTube video with an autotuned voice over.
Now, let’s get into why these people aren’t just laughable, but dangerous. If you have ever struggled with depression, whether clinical or situational, you know that your default setting becomes you being wrong and/or a failure. Now imagine being depressed and seeing someone on your timeline saying that you chose to be that way and just aren’t working hard enough to not be depressed. Are you clear-headed enough to see it for the BS that it is, or does it feed your depression’s default line of thinking that you are a failure? How exactly are they helping anyone? If anything they are compounding the stigma already leveled at those of us struggling with our mental health.
What’s even worse is when this message comes from people we know and have reached out to for help or a listening ear. We often hear “Why didn’t they reach out for help?” after someone has made a drastic decision when they actually did and were told that they just weren’t trying hard enough. I’ve cut people off for this, after trying to explain why their sentiment is harmful and being gaslit and told I’m mean. What’s mean is telling someone that their suicidal ideations and soul-crushing depression are their fault. For all their “positive vibes only” rhetoric, when you try to explain why they are wrong and harmful they get real negative, real quick. How are you a positive person but lack the ability to feel empathy?
In the cult of positivity being human is frowned upon and speaking out about it is cause for excommunication.