In Defence of Mental Illness

So… Apple paid U2 a lot of money to give away a copy of their latest album. The reasoning behind this has been discussed at length across the Internet and I could only speculate as to why either party did it. So I won’t.

The bigger controversy is the fact that Apple put a copy of the album into the purchase history of every iTunes customer, which resulted in an automatic download of the album for many people. This also has been debated at length, and nobody really needs me to add another voice to the mix. So I won’t.

I was going to pass on this topic until I saw the following tweet written by Peter Cohen – a writer and managing editor at iMore, an Apple-centric news web site.

I personally objected to Peter using the term “mentally ill” in this context. I thought about how I should send a scathing response, which is hard to do effectively in 140 characters or less, criticising Peter for equating general “rage” with mental illness, but I figured it was just a poorly worded, throwaway comment that wasn’t worth getting annoyed about. So I didn’t.

Then I saw his article about the subject on iMore, “NSFW: Apple, U2 and looking a gift horse in the mouth”. While I don’t necessarily agree with his position on the whole subject, I once again was dismayed to see a reference to mental illness:

But the inordinate amount of actual anger directed at Apple and U2 over this is so disproportional to the actual event, I’ve started to wonder about the mental state of some of those complaining. It’s really been off the charts.

I’ve tried looking at it from Peter’s point of view, and I get that he has seen some people take this issue way too seriously. As with any broad cross-section of people, you can expect a wide spectrum of reactions, possibly ranging from ecstatic pleasure at receiving a free album by their favourite band of all time, to people who are – rightly or wrongly – angry, or raging, at what they see as a violation of their privacy.

Peter doesn’t get why people would be so angry. That’s fine. He wants to write about it. That’s fine also.

What’s not fine is conflating Internet rage (however extreme it may seem) with mental illness. It’s a cheap shot. It’s also quite disappointing given how much the tech industry has been pushing towards greater awareness of mental illness, and striving to reduce the stigma that has made it hard for people to seek help. Using a perception of mental instability to deride people you disagree with is not the way to bring mental health issues to the fore.

As someone who suffers from mental health issues, I felt I should say something about this, and do my part to not let people think it’s okay to equate rage with mental health problems. So I did.