Recently, I came across a video response on YouTube which was produced by Laura Lejeune in response to a video by Julia Boer who claims that eating disorders, anxiety, and depression are all choices, not illnesses.
In her video, Julia Boer claims that “[mental illness] is all in your head” and inferiorizes the suffering of individuals who experience the latter illnesses when contrasted with so-called “real” mental disorders such as schizophrenia. Boer claims that she is “trying to help” and “[has] the key to success” when it comes to recovery from eating disorders. So, you ask, what is this magical key to success? Well, dearest reader, according to Boer, it’s very simple! All you have to do is stop making the “choice” to have an eating disorder and BAM problem solved, you will no longer have an eating disorder.
Now, wouldn’t that just be so nice? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all just wake up one day and decide to recover? Or, better yet, wouldn’t it be great if we could decide to stop the disorder before it even begins?
Yeah, that would be fantastic; however, it is ignorant to suggest that this is the “key to success”. Mental illness is not a choice. Recovery does require you to make the choice to fight for your life to get better, but developing a mental illness in the first place is not a choice. To suggest such a thing is offensive and –quite frankly– naive.
In the video, Lejeune makes a great counterargument to the “it’s all in your head” statement that I hear so frequently. She states:
“I never really understand when people say it’s all in your head. It’s kind of like, well yeah it’s in your head. It’s in your head because it’s a mental illness. It’s not called a mental illness because it’s physical. If you’ve got a pain in your leg you don’t say ‘it’s all in your leg’. That doesn’t make it any less severe. […] yes it’s in your head, but so are you”.
When I heard this I actually had to pause the video and play it back three times to let that really set in. It’s so simple and yet so true. It’s in your head, but so are you. You can’t just remove yourself from your own mind. If you had a limb that was slowly killing you then you could amputate the limb. This may not be ideal, but it is at least a possibility to save your life. The same cannot be said of your mind. If you have a diseased mind threatening your life (i.e. depression causing suicidal thoughts) you can’t just amputate your mind. You’re stuck with it. You can’t escape from it. You cannot live without your mind and you cannot replace it in the same way that you might replace a defective organ with a transplant. So why is it that people say “it’s all in your head” as a means of diminishing the suffering of people who experience mental illness? Should that statement not act as a justification for why an individual should seek help immediately? Why is it so hard for people to grasp that mental illness is a serious, potentially life threatening issue that is most certainly NOT a choice? Why?!
Listening to what Julia Boer had to say about mental illness brought up a lot of emotions for me, but the two most prevalent of those emotions were anger and disappointment. I was angry that someone who is so obviously ignorant and uneducated about mental illness would speak out about an issue that she clearly knows absolutely nothing about and I was disappointed that we live in a society in which these oppressive opinions are relatively widespread. My mission as a future social worker is to break that stigmatization and educate people like Julia about the reality of mental illness.
If you have a mental illness it is not your fault. You did not choose to suffer. And if you are suffering but you do not believe that you deserve help, please reach out and talk to a doctor, a friend, a teacher, or someone else that you trust who can help you get the support that you need. Mental illness is not a choice, but recovery is. You did not make a conscious decision to suffer but you do need to make the choice to fight for your life and for the happiness that you deserve.
Remember, mental illness is in your head, but so are you.