I can’t write this post or start it with that image without at least a little back story: I’m a heavy metal and industrial rock fan who also happens to be musically locked in the ’90s. Also, no one uses the word “anomie” (or its derivatives) with the frequency I do unless they’ve been impacted in some way by Emile Durkheim. About a dozen years ago, I introduced my college roommate to 1990s hard rock. In return she introduced me to Durkheimian theories. The two topics converged in a conversation only bored college students would have about Metallica’s “The Unforgiven.” This morning that conversation occurred to me while listening to the so-called Black Album. I admit the association is heavy-handed and tenuous at best. Further, this is a discussion topic we’ve pussy-footed around, but never outright discussed.
Labeling theory is just what it sounds like. In a gross oversimplification of things that also omits all questions of scale and counterargument, I’ll summarize by saying that labels may self-fulfilling prophesies about human behavior. They may create a set of behaviors by setting the expectation for it. Tell a child she is smart and watch her excel. Tell an offender he’s nothing more than a criminal, and you may have just invented recidivism. To quote Ms. Britney Spears: “You say I’m crazy. I got your crazy.” (Again, gross oversimplification of things, but you see where this is going. For a longer summary — but still a summary — here’s some Wikipedia action for you.) So, labeling may be positive or negative. There is also the thought out there that negative labels may produce positive effects by encouraging people to undo the label, a sort of reverse peer pressure. In the case of the crazy label, it could prompt one to seek treatment.
So, here’s the question you don’t ask in the context of a medical model of mental illness (perhaps downright heretical): To what extent do you think the Mental Illness label affects your behavior, your future, your expectations for yourself, you? I am specifically not asking whether the label is the cause. You, of course, can address that if you’d like, but I’m not about to assume that anyone is first called “crazy” and then develops a mental illness. Still, the Label concept may very well have ramifications on one’s future.
The next logical questions, then, are To what extent do you think the High-Functioning label affects your behavior, your future, your expectations for yourself, you? Are there operational and/or instrumental differences between those labels? Is either positive or negative? Is either label effective? Do they matter? I will concede to the prevalent “words are just words” responses out there, but am working on the premise that anyone who reads and writes on this site has already gotten to and crossed that bridge with me. After all, this place is called Define “Functioning.” Most of what we talk about are what words might mean and whether those meanings apply. (Also, I’m sorry if anyone is annoyed with my continued Wikipedia links here. It seems prudent for me to provide definitions of sorts for some things when I’m in the middle of talking about talking about definitions. Apparently, I’m feeling extremely meta.)
I have to give this more thought and will throw my answers into the Comments when I have answers to share. In the meantime, I’ll share that I wonder whether my seemingly inherent contrarianism is about to play into my response. After all, it’s the same sentiment of reactionary defiance expressed in the song.