Are “Mental Heath” and Compliance the same thing?

Emma Barnes
3 min readJan 28, 2023
The first edition of the DSM

Nicky is schizophrenic. In another time and place, Nicky’s clan looked to her for wisdom and spiritual guidance. In today’s bargain, she works in an office. She is undervalued and she feels it. Her distress plays out in ways unfamiliar to her colleagues. They edge her out. Cue more distress, triggering a medical process, or a carceral one. She will be quietened beneath pharmaceuticals or behind bars until she can once again perform “normal.

When winter has an effect on our mood and we can’t push through an unchanged work schedule, the doctor’s certificate might indicate a disorder. You might even say it yourself. But there is nothing unnatural about it. You are healthy if you respond to the onset of winter by slowing your metabolism, resisting social contact, and staying indoors. The desire to hibernate doesn’t feel bad. Shame does.

You’re worth so much more than your productivity

Democritus said vexation can be measured in the distance between expectation and result. Our results aren’t disordered. It’s the expectations round here — they’re absurd:

Be a man or a woman. Be a nuclear family. Be a full time worker. Have perfect teeth. Teach your kids the school curriculum and work full time from home. If you have one. Redesign your workflow ready for Zoom on Monday. Be comfortable under fluorescent lights. Be calm when you’re scared. Be consistent. Work on yourself. Be confident. Watch the news. Be optimistic. Be rational. Smile. Don’t cry. Not here. Smile for a photo with your oppressor.

How, exactly, do compliant people think the world will change if not through the expression and celebration of indignation and anger? For international readers — on the right is Grace Tame and she’s staring at Scott Morrison

Anger is a sane response. What happens next is the thing. If your expression is bottled, the trouble starts.

“how’s your mental health?”

“well let’s see, Sigmund. I’m quite pissed off at some of the things I see. I feel anger. Are u still listening?

“yes, go on”

“anger is a healthy response to injustice, Sigmund. So up to this point in my story, my mental health is good. U follow?”


“so I express my anger which is healthy, right?”


“but everybody’s a participant in the systems I criticise. I name this, including myself in the charges, and people take offence. Ususally it’s the ones privileged by those systems. They call out my tone. They don’t respond to the details, Sigmund. They call out my tone.”

“I see”

“If I keep speaking after that they back out of the room. They literally pretend nobody spoke. I’m the nobody, Sigmund. So I’m no longer vexed and angry. I’m now doubting my own existence. Did I actually speak? Do you get it?”

“I think so, yes”

“And that’s when the insanity starts. That’s when my mental health falters. But even that makes sense in the context. Do you see? My insanity is the only sane response.”

“tell me about your mother”

“oh for fuck’s sake.”



Emma Barnes

Autistic, trans, survivor, abolitionist @friedkrill on Twitstagram