Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"[I]t's not about you"

So, the comments. There are, as is inevitable, a bunch of people praising the author for being a wonderful person (whereas the carers who don't write books or essays about their experience get classified with the people who have no such difficulties, or are somehow lacking in the sensitive quality that would compel anyone halfway literate to send narrative versions of family members' medical records to the Times, using real names, and turning the result into a book if at all possible).

There are also a number making variations of the same argument: that mental illness is stigmatized, and the author's placing medical information that is not his own, without his brother's consent, is justified because then we'll all be having this great big conversation about mental illness, after which point no one will feel the need to keep such matters a secret. Which... doesn't quite add up. If more were known about serious mental illness, maybe more who need it would seek treatment, and maybe there's be a bit more understanding about "mental illness" and violence, things like, if someone's bulimic, they're no more likely to commit a violent crime. But I can't imagine the end result would be that one might disclose on a first date that one suffers from severe schizophrenia and learn that thanks to the new regime of destigmatization, your date is no less interested in seeing you again. Same deal re: a job interview. People are discreet about all kinds of things, including mental and physical illnesses, for a reason. There's no grand, sweeping destigmatization that would change this. "Outing" loved ones isn't courageous. There's no means-justify-the-ends excuse.

Other commenters, meanwhile, note that they themselves suffer from mental illness (and yet are capable of reading an article and composing a sensible response - imagine!), and that they'd prefer if their family members not mine this for material. One writes that if any of his family members "were to approach me about a book project, i already know my response: it's not about you."

Which is... exactly the issue here. Another person's tragedies may impact you somewhat, or even tremendously, but it's clear-cut whose story this is to tell. If you've learned something profound from the experience, you can do any number of things - advocate for a cause, write a novel that fictionalizes the situation, be of help to this person - but not publish confidential information without someone's consent. You can't decide, prior to getting that consent, that you'll publish something with that person's identifying information regardless of their approval.

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