In a new series called Freudian Script Fortnight, I will be looking at news items relevant to mental health and disability and commentating on them/snarking at them/throwing them in the sea.

Mary Creagh MP is not “hysterical”

This beautiful speech against the use of the word “hysteria” is rooted in mental health history, where women’s emotional state and mental wellbeing was entirely attributed to the womb. More specifically, the “wandering womb” – the travels of an entire organ around a woman’s body, making her inexplicable and quite, quite mad. The clue is in the word itself – from hysteros, the Greek for womb, from which we also get the word hysterectomy.

I wish I could say that such silly notions had gone away, but note the continued use of “PMT” or “time of the month” to dismiss a woman’s anger, concerns or complaints. Note an MP using the word “hysterical” to describe one of his colleagues in the House of Commons.

For a more light-hearted education of the subject of hysteria and its treatment, I recommend the 2011 film of the same name.

Why people with learning disabilities should be allowed to work for less than the minimum wage (The Spectator)

The arguments embedded in this article can be boiled down to one question – is the work and time of a person with a learning disability worth the same as a person without? The article says no, because employers won’t pay for them (the “market forces” argument) and they don’t need the money anyway (because they all live with their parents, apparently).

Firstly, what is a learning disability? The author mentions her daughter with Down Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder caused by three copies of chromosome 21 instead of the usual two. However, Down Syndrome is not synonymous with learning disability and not all people with Down Syndome have a learning disability. The mental health definition of learning disability (or intellectual disability) is an IQ below 70 – more specifically, mild is IQ 50-70, moderate 35-49, and severe 20-34.

While IQ points might indicate a person’s functional ability, it’s a meaningless test for real-world applicability. Assistance and adaptations can lead to fulfilling employment and lives well lived, with the right investment and support – and the payment of a living wage.

University bans phrases such as ‘mankind’ and ‘gentleman’s agreement’ in favour of gender-neutral terms (The Independent)

This move by Cardiff Metropolitan University caused a kerfuffle because it was seen as censorship and limiting free speech in academia. While their stance on gender neutrality drew the most attention, the document also included guidance on other potentially harmful language. It advocated avoiding generalised terms like “the disabled” or “the blind”. Interestingly, it advised against “people with disabilities” because people are disabled by society rather than inherently disabled.

You might be familiar with the maxim “your rights stop where mine begin”. For those who cry over “free speech”, xkcd says it better than I ever could:

John Humphrys Suggests Jo Cox’s Murder Was Not Act Of Terrorism During BBC Radio 4 Today Programme (Huffington Post)

“But in that case wasn’t that just a very deeply disturbed man, mentally ill wasn’t he? That slightly muddies the water doesn’t it when we talk about that as terrorism? I mean, it was a murder, wasn’t it?”

In a winning combination of mental health stigma and implicit racism, John Humphrys said on the Today programme that Thomas Mair’s murder of MP Jo Cox was not an act of terrorism because he was “disturbed” and “mentally ill”. It is notable that Mair’s own defence team seem to disagree with Humphrys assessment, as they did not submit any medical evidence – i.e. they believed any mental health problems that Mair had did not have a significant impact on his actions on that day.

In the UK, to enter a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity”, the M’Naghten rules must be satisfied. These originate from the mid-19th century case of Daniel M’Naghten, who killed Edward Drummond, personal secretary to Prime Minister Robert Peel. He mistook Drummond for Peel, who he believed was personally responsible for his misfortunes. The M’Naghten rules state that all people are presumed sane and able to reason, until proven otherwise. Legal insanity can only be demonstrated if the accused person did not know what they were doing or, if they did know, did not know it was wrong.

By this definition, Mair might have been “disturbed” and “mentally ill” at the time of Jo Cox’s murder, but he was not legally insane. And the judge called him a terrorist.

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