Saturday, July 5, 2008

Barack Obama Sez Mental Health Isn't Health

Feministe, Pandagon and Shakesville have already reported on this, so I will restrict my comments on it to pointing out the somewhat retrograde attitude Sen. Obama seems to have towards mental illness:
Now, I don’t think that “mental distress” qualifies as the health of the mother. I think it has to be a serious physical issue that arises in pregnancy, where there are real, significant problems to the mother carrying that child to term.

Jill at Feministe already pointed out how problematic it is for any male politician to start talking about what he thinks is a justifiable abortion, but I am struck by the fact that he waves aside all potential mental-health problems as trivial.

Depressed? Suicidal? Hallucinating? Just suck it up and deal with it, ya big whiner.

Seriously, one of the biggest things to come out of psychology in the past few decades is the extent to which mental problems are physical problems, with corresponding changes in the brain's physiology. For Obama to dismiss psychiatric symptoms as all in the mind is about as scientifically literate as saying human activities have no effect on climate.

I expect more from the Democratic Party, for Pete's sake.


stevethehydra said...

Oh this is complex. Very very complex.

I've very recently been very badly burned on this issue, so for now i'll limit my comments to: mental distress is not the same thing as a mental impairment, and i don't think the former comes under the category of medical (as opposed to social) phenomena. That might sound like a trivial point of categorisation, but i believe it's one that has very, very real implications, not just for psychiatry but for Western society in general.

(Of course, i believe that any woman has a right to abort, before the point of viability outside the womb, for any reason whatsoever (even if i think that very nasty ideologies underlie some of these reasons), so the distinction isn't really an issue for me in this context...)

And there is NO meaningful difference between the Democratic and Republican parties.

I have a post planned on this in the near-ish future...

Lindsay said...

"...mental distress is not the same thing as a mental impairment"

That's true. I guess my mind immediately jumped to the cases of either major depression (for which a woman must stop medication while she is pregnant) or a history of/risk factors for postpartum depression/psychosis. Or any other psychiatric disorder that a) requires a medication that is unsafe to use while pregnant or b) causes the woman to doubt her ability to bear/raise a child and remain sane. But you're right; not every bad emotional experience is a psychiatric episode. Nevertheless, I think Sen. Obama's sentiment, if reflected in the law, would make it hard for women who do have psychiatric conditions who wish to avoid pregnancy to get abortions. And that would be wrong.

Lindsay said...

"And there is NO meaningful difference between the Democratic and Republican parties."

I think, on some level, I know that, although I want very much to believe otherwise.