Mentalism (discrimination)

Mentalism or sanism describes discrimination and oppression against a mental trait or condition a person has, or is judged to have. This discrimination may or may not be characterized in terms of mental disorder or cognitive impairment. The discrimination is based on numerous factors such as stereotypes about neurodivergence, for example autism spectrum, learning disorders, ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, and personality disorders, specific behavioral phenomena such as stuttering and tics, or intellectual disability.

Like other "isms" such as sexism and racism, mentalism involves multiple intersecting forms of oppression, complex social inequalities and imbalances of power. It can result in covert discrimination by multiple, small insults and indignities. It is characterized by judgments of another person's perceived mental health status. These judgments are followed by actions such as blatant, overt discrimination which may include refusal of service, or the denial of human rights. Mentalism impacts how individuals are treated by the general public, by mental health professionals, and by institutions, including the legal system. The negative attitudes involved may also be internalized.

The terms mentalism, from "mental", and sanism, from "sane", have become established in some contexts, though concepts such as social stigma, and in some cases ableism, may be used in similar but not identical ways.

While mentalism and sanism are used interchangeably, sanism is becoming predominant in certain circles, such as academics, those who identify as mad and mad advocates and in a socio-political context where sanism is gaining ground as a movement.[1] The movement of sanism is an act of resistance among those who identify as mad, consumer survivors, and mental health advocates.[1][2][3] In academia evidence of this movement can be found in the number of recent publications about sanism and social work practice.[3][2][1]

Origin of terms

"Sanism" was coined by Morton Birnbaum.

The term "sanism" was coined by Morton Birnbaum during his work representing Edward Stephens, a mental health patient, in a legal case in the 1960s.[4] Birnbaum was a physician, lawyer and mental health advocate who helped establish a constitutional right to treatment for psychiatric patients along with safeguards against involuntary commitment. Since first noticing the term in 1980, New York legal professor Michael L. Perlin subsequently continued its use.[5]

"Mentalism" was coined by Judi Chamberlin.

In 1975 Judi Chamberlain coined the term mentalism in a book chapter of Women Look at Psychiatry.[6] The term became more widely known when she used it in 1978 in her book On Our Own: Patient Controlled Alternatives to the Mental Health System, which for some time became the standard text of the psychiatric survivor movement in the US.[7][8][9][10][11] People began to recognize a pattern in how they were treated, a set of assumptions which most people seemed to hold about mental (ex)patients regardless of whether they applied to any particular individual at any particular time – that they were incompetent, unable to do things for themselves, constantly in need of supervision and assistance, unpredictable, likely to be violent or irrational etc. It was realized that not only did the general public express mentalist ideas, so did ex-patients, a form of internalized oppression.[12]

As of 1998 these terms have been adopted by some consumers/survivors in the UK and the USA, but had not gained general currency. This left a conceptual gap filled in part by the concept of 'stigma', but this has been criticized for focusing less on institutionalized discrimination with multiple causes, but on whether people perceive mental health issues as shameful or worse than they are. Despite its use, a body of literature demonstrated widespread discrimination across many spheres of life, including employment, parental rights, housing, immigration, insurance, health care and access to justice.[13] However, the use of new "isms" has also been questioned on the grounds that they can be perceived as divisive, out of date, or a form of undue political correctness. The same criticisms, in this view, may not apply so much to broader and more accepted terms like 'discrimination' or 'social exclusion'.[14]

There is also the umbrella term ableism, referring to discrimination against those who are (perceived as) disabled. In terms of the brain, there is the movement for the recognition of neurodiversity. The term psychophobia (from psyche and phobia) has occasionally been used with a similar meaning.