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Are the Young People That Shrinks Label as Disruptive Really Anarchists with a Healthy Resistance to Oppressive Authority?

Many young people diagnosed with mental disorders have acted on their beliefs in ways that threaten authorities.
 
 
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Many young people diagnosed with mental disorders are essentially anarchists who have the bad luck of being misidentified by mental health professionals, who 1) are ignorant of the social philosophy of anarchism; 2) embrace, often without political consciousness, its opposite ideology of hierarchism; and 3) confuse the signs of anarchism with symptoms of mental illness.

The mass media equates anarchism with chaos and violence. However, the social philosophy of anarchism rejects authoritarian government, opposes coercion, strives for greatest freedom, works toward “mutual aid” and voluntary cooperation, and maintains that people organizing themselves without hierarchies creates the most satisfying social arrangement. Many anarchists adhere to the principle of nonviolence (though the question of violence has historically divided anarchists in their battle to eliminate authoritarianism). Nonviolent anarchists have energized the Occupy movement and other struggles for economic justice and freedom.

In practice, anarchism is not a dogmatic system. So for example, “practical anarchist” parents will use their authority to grab their child who has begun to run out into traffic. However, practical anarchists strongly believe that all authorities have the burden of proof to justify control, and that most authorities in modern society cannot bear that burden and are thus illegitimate—and should be eliminated and replaced by noncoercive, freely participating relationships.

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.”

Among young people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychologist Russell Barkley, one of mainstream mental health’s leading ADHD authorities, says that they have deficits in “rule-governed behavior,” as they are less responsive to rules of authorities and less sensitive to positive or negative consequences. A frequently used research tool that distinguishes alcohol/drug abuser personalities was developed by Craig MacAndrew, and is commonly called the MAC scale. It reveals that the most significant “addictive personality type” have discipline problems at school, are less tolerant of boredom, are less compliant with authorities and some laws, and engage in more disapproved sexual practices.

I have encountered many people who had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, and who are now politically conscious anarchists, including Sascha Altman DuBrul, author of Maps to the Other Side: The Adventures of a Bipolar Cartographer. DuBrul, several times diagnosed with bipolar disorder, has lived in rebel communities in Mexico, Central America and Manhattan’s Lower East Side, worked on community farms, participated in Earth First! road blockades and demonstrated on the streets in the Battle for Seattle. He reports that many of his anti-authoritarian friends also have been diagnosed with mental illness.

Teenagers, as evidenced by their musical tastes, 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. Historically in American society, there is often a steep price paid by those who have this combination of integrity, fearlessness, and naïvity.

While DuBrul and his friends have political consciousness, my experience is that most rebellious young people diagnosed with mental disorders do not, 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: