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An obsession with victimhood

By Alexander Deane - posted Monday, 3 October 2005

As documented in a survey conducted by Professor Philip Goodman, of King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, there has been an explosion of mental health “problems” in the post-Freud age. His findings show that one in ten children in the UK are deemed to be mentally ill.

Because this phenomenon is generated by diagnoses by doctors and presented in the language of science, it goes largely unquestioned. But it is worth asking how much the modern obsession with mental problems is merely part and parcel of the modern culture of victimhood, rather than a genuine recognition of psychological disorders.

Once, people were shut up in bedlams - usually indefinitely and in terrible conditions. This was evidently wholly wrong. The increased understanding of conditions - and sometimes their consequent treatment - is wonderful.


But the pendulum has swung too far. We live in the era of the depression myth. The truth is that life is hard. People are naturally upset by this reality; coming to terms with it and working hard to overcome our challenges is part of life. However, society is now too keen to “medicalise” the undesirable and give labels (and excuses) to what once would have been treated with a sharp dose of “snap out of it”.

In modern society, it seems that the status of victim is a desirable one. Once you have a “medical problem”, you’re not responsible for yourself, you’re a victim of this or that condition which can be “struggled” with and remedied with the blissful aid of doctors.

Counselling is a variant on this, a more approachable form of medication. People are encouraged to stand outside themselves and speculate on the “causes” of behaviour, analysing their past for ignition events as if they are automata incapable of dealing with traumatic events and getting on with things.

Conveniently enough, “treatment” helps to generate a fortune for those that give it, so creating an incentive to prescribe and diagnose - even creating an incentive to find new conditions.

There are many people who suffer terribly from genuine mental conditions. Their lives can be devastated by their problems. But their plight is demeaned by the prescribing rabble that deem all character flaws to be medical problems for their own gain, and by the whinging of those too busy feeling sorry for themselves to get over their victim complex.

A significant aspect of the work of the prescription factory is the provision of excuses and justifications which actually serve to forestall betterment in the lives of the “patients” concerned. We “medicalise” incivility, unpleasantness, uncontrolled aggression. The result is the empowerment of the offensive with the perverted strength of weakness: “you can’t criticise me - I’ve got a condition.”


Furthermore, it removes all responsibility from those that might once have been called to account for the poor behaviour of the person concerned: bad parenting or the damage done by schools without any meaningful discipline (as I’ve alluded to elsewhere in On Line Opinion) can increasingly be overlooked as the child concerned apparently has a medical problem. Disciplinary problems - for schools and for parents - can be calmed by prescribing drugs, in vast quantities. Figures show that Ritalin prescriptions have seen a 180-fold increase in under-16s since 1991.

We have an educational system that doesn’t like to tell children they’ve got something wrong. It would rather let them go out into the world illiterate or innumerate rather than suffer the supposed indignity of being told how to do something properly. Similarly, it would rather go along with the mental health gravy train and the depression myth rather than confront the fact that it’s failing to properly teach young people essential skills.

Seeking to “understand” so-called “problems” is often not kindness, but rather unwonted indulgence: it is a special kind of cruelty that means people no longer attempt to better their behaviour. The soft bigotry of low expectations can happily smother the “afflicted,” and antisocial behaviour or educational problems can be justified rather than corrected. It’s part of the well-documented process of the sentimentalisation of society, in which emotions are more important than facts and the most powerful condition is that of victimhood.

We are “medicalising” the inability to keep one’s temper. People should be punished for their inability to restrain themselves. Instead, in the culture of victimhood, they are - in effect - being rewarded.

As Mike Adams anecdotally shows in typical acerbic style, plenty of these “conditions” are remediable the old fashioned way - namely, impatience. Adult ADHD both glamorises the plight and justifies the behaviour of those unwilling to pay attention, by labelling them unable to pay attention. Thereafter, there’s ostensibly no need to try to better oneself. But the conditions can, ahem, miraculously disappear if only the “patient” realises that they’ll get short shrift from those around them.

In the infantilising age, when everyone wants to be a victim and nobody seems to want to just get on with it, very often the three most important words for doctors to say aren’t “here’s a prescription” - they’re “pull yourself together”.

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About the Author

Alexander Deane is a Barrister. He read English Literature at Trinity College, Cambridge and took a Masters degree in International Relations as a Rotary Scholar at Griffith University. He is a World Universities Debating Champion and is the author of The Great Abdication: Why Britain’s Decline is the Fault of the Middle Class, published by Imprint Academic. A former chief of staff to David Cameron MP in the UK, he also works for the Liberal Party in Australia.

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