“’Come a long way,’” says fat-faced Public Relation. They’ve made life look very pleasant with paint and decorations and chrome bathroom fixtures. ‘A man that would want to run away from a place as nice as this,’ says fat-faced Public Relation, “why, there’d be something wrong with him“(99).
After finishing the second half of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, I was initially left feeling as though I’d been on an emotional roller-coaster. I felt angry at McMurphy’s lobotomy, distraught at Billy’s death, bitter about Nurse Ratched, and joyful that the Chief finally escaped and found his voice. I thought about what aspect of the book I wanted to examine further in this blog post. A few things came to mind; I found the depictions of the black characters unsettling, I thought that perhaps Kesey was a bit misogynistic in the way that he portrayed women, and I also considered talking about the possible Freudian symbolism at work–and quickly threw that idea out because I am admittedly biased quite heavily against Freudian theories. I settled on examining the pathology within One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and how this pathologizing of symptoms relates to society today, and hopefully how it relates to the purposes of this class.
Mental illness is real and valid, and often requires individuals to seek out help from the medical community. The increasing awareness and (hopefully) de-stigmatization of mental illness and neurodivergency has opened up doors for people to get the help they need, especially as it concerns insurance companies. However, the increase in diagnoses comes with a potential for pathologizing symptoms that would otherwise be considered normal, or perhaps strictly medical and not psychological. This is seen in what the characers in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest are institutionalized for–Harding, in for homosexual tendencies; Billy, in for the stutter he was born with; Sefelt and Frederickson whom are both in for epilepsy. McMurphy sees the fact that many of them aren’t ‘crazy’ and becomes frustrated after the patients compare themselves to helpless rabbits: “With a loud hissing o breath McMurphy turns from Harding to the rest of the Acutes standing around. ‘“Here; all you guys. What the hell is the matter with you? You ain’t as crazy as all this, thinking you’re some animal”‘ (52). It is clear that Nurse Ratched and the rest of the hospital serve to add to their helplessness in order to keep them there longer. It is later revealed that many of them, almost all of them, were there voluntarily, and though the hated it they were made to believe that they could not survive the real world.
I looked into this pathologizing, which is a real problem today. I found that “examples of mental health professionals pathologizing may include treating noncompliance with recommendations as evidence of a psychiatric disorder” (GoodTherapy.org). Is this ringing any bells? Remember that Nurse Ratched counts noncompliance against the patients and uses it as evidence for harsher forms of ‘therapy’, such as electrotherapy and lobotomy. And while those specific risks are virtually a non-issue today, some other risks of over-diagnosing exist:
While some people’s behavior may indeed evidence a medical or mental health condition, no single condition or disorder can affect every single behavior or thought a person has, and pathologizing tends to negate the feelings, needs, and thoughts of people with mental health diagnoses. Pathologizing can also, paradoxically, cause mental health issues to be treated less seriously (GoodTherapy.org).
How does this relate to our class? We’ve been encountering characters within our readings that either intentionally or unintentionally exhibit characteristics of neurodivergency. It is worth asking ourselves if we at times pathologize these characters, and in doing so unintentionally adding to the problem of stigmatizing behaviors that are beyond the ‘norm.’ I guess what I’m trying to say is that just because something is different, it doesn’t necessarily mean it needs to be treated.
Kesey, Ken. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest: A Novel. New York: Viking, 1962. Print.