Using invisible disability as a rite of privilege is never right

Some backstory

In the 2000s I organised mental health forums, a chance to meet up with like-minded people who understood what you were trying to say. People who didn’t judge because they knew from bitter experience what it is to be judged.

Mental health service users had credit-card sized Crisis Cards on which to record medication, support contacts, needs in crisis, that sort of thing. At one particular forum a discussion about the card was going on when a member of the group explained how he used his crisis card to ‘explain away’ his aggressive behaviour on public transport. The ensuing heated argument about the rights and wrongs of using mental health as a blatant excuse for anti-social behaviour was alarming. In a short space of time another man was squaring up to him, verbally and physically, and they were escorted outside.

The general consensus was that, while poor mental health may be a ‘reason behind’ anger, using any condition as an ‘excuse’ is morally wrong. The ‘I can’t help it, so I won’t try’, or ‘I’ve got a problem, so everyone should shoulder my problem’ was not accepted as reasonable behaviour or attitude.

Different situation; same mindset

In October 2020, and well into lockdown, I decided to return to study. I registered for a course on mental health and wellbeing that was interesting, enjoyable, and intense. All was well for a few weeks but, as isolation and working from home began to fray the nerves for some, one student pulled the ‘no-one ever appreciates my disability’ card. She laid it on with a trowel, from ‘my family doesn’t understand’, through ‘I am not coping and won’t get the grade I deserve’, to ‘I am having a nervous breakdown’. The last in response to a fellow student who referred to a post in which she used capital letters.

Having an invisible disability myself, why wasn’t I more sympathetic?

Because I knew she was lying to get preferential treatment that other students with many more personal and professional problems were not being afforded. And that I cannot tolerate. The day after she had ranted at the course mentor about not being able to cope, she had emailed me to say she didn’t need help as she was going to change her strategy and she’d be fine. I also knew that the part of the course she said she couldn’t cope with was something that she used and taught her own students.

So, why is it wrong?

My reactions may appear extreme to some, but it’s hard enough to be understood for something that is not obvious, let alone fight through the prejudice that results from individuals who play the disability card, who cry “Wolf!” too often.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this situation. Have you been affected, or perhaps don’t know what the fuss is about?
Keep well. Stay safe.
Marilyn X