May 26, 2015

The "Right Mental Attitude"

     Someone retweeted this to me: "Nothing can stop the man w/ the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man w/the wrong mental attitude,"
     This was tweeted by a man who was a college football player and who is now the sales manager of a large corporation. It sorta fits his background, wouldn't you say?
     There is every reason to encourage people to have "the right mental attitude." That can help take one far. However, taken literally, and many people take this sort of platitude literally, it means that if you've succeeded in life, it must be because you have "the right mental attitude" and if you've been unable to overcome adversity, it must mean that you have "the wrong mental attitude."
     I'm cruel to say this but if the person who wrote this comes down with cancer, his "right mental attitude" may not enable him to achieve any goal he may have. If medical treatment doesn't work, he's going to suffer and die. Whether medical treatment works has almost nothing to do with his "mental attitude." Whatever goals he may have had will not be achieved. If his son or daughter develops schizophrenia, having "right mental attitude" won't get them very far. They'll probably be unable to work on a regular basis, regardless of their mental attitude. Life circumstances can completely overwhelm any "mental attitude" no matter how "right" it may be.
     I deal with clients every day who feel that their disability isn't so much caused by their illnesses as by their personal shortcomings. They feel that being out of work means that they have failed even though objectively they haven't failed; they're simply dealing with serious illness. It's bad enough to be sick. It's worse to mistakenly think that your inability to work means is your fault when it isn't.
     As a society, we're eager to tout the successes of those who have overcome disability with the "right mental attitude" while ignoring the fact that the disability overcome seldom involves factors such as chronic severe pain or chronic progressive illness or chronic severe mental illness. We like nice stories about people in wheelchairs who are still working. We think that's how we'll be if illness strikes us. We'll have the "right mental attitude" and be able to overcome our disability. When we hear stories about people with bipolar disorder who end up homeless, we want to think that can't happen to us because, unlike the homeless people, we have the "right mental attitude." We don't want to consider the possibility that the difference between the person in the wheelchair who is still working and the homeless person with bipolar disorder is the nature and severity of the disability rather than "mental attitude." We think we can control our "mental attitude." We don't like to think about the fact that we can't control illness and injury.
     Writ large, this is the problem with this country's attitudes towards disability. We think that people can control disability with the "right mental attitude" but that's a delusion that leads us to be cruel to disabled people and even to ourselves when we become disabled.


Anonymous said...

This is also the attitude towards poor people, in general. It's a choice, isn't it? It is if you believe you are capable of making life-altering choices when you're 3 years old.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes it mental attitude. Sometimes it's not.

Sometimes people do not like a person.

Sometimes a person may have more opportunities than others.

Perhaps the person who tweeted was a young white guy with the world at his feet.

If the word disability was replaced with any other protected class it becomes clear bias is a role.

For example blacks and other people of color in the 1950's and 1960's likely had the right attitude but because of lawful segragation they was treated unequally.

Joe Foley said...

Charles, thank you for posting this piece.

Dan Smith said...

Excellent piece. My sentiments exactly.

Anonymous said...

The author of this tweet, while I'm sure is well-meaning and sincere, reminds me of the saying: "he was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple." A good attitude will only take a person so far, especially for the people that we represent and speak with on a daily basis.

Anonymous said...

Excellent posting, Charles! Quite some time ago, you suggested that your readers check out This is a blog which was posted by an attorney who had been an interpreter for the hearing-impaired (if I remember correctly). She has not posted for a long time, but she very vividly put forth what mental attitudes are often exhibited by claimants. Despite the lapse in postings, I suggest that more people should check out that blog.

Gayle Myrna said...

First, an apology, I screwed up and typed this under the Memorial Day topic. Sorry!

Anyhow,thanks for this piece! I agree that there has been a delusional over-emphasis on the "right attitude"...or New Age nonsense like the "law of attraction" which you are responsible for EVERYTHING that happens to you. Got cancer? Well, sorry, you must've done something or had the wrong attitude. Chronic pain? Severe asthma you and your doctors can't control? You must develop the "right attitude" and you'll be just fine. A lot of warped thinking, I expect, goes into anti-disability themes and the right wing's cheerful delight in looking to cut Social Security Disability. Some of this "the disabled aren't really disabled and can go back to work" mindset comes from well-intentioned themes of the achievements of some of the disabled population. I note that it's usually amputees with high tech prosthetics doing the astounding things like running races and climbing mountains. Don't hear about too many people with severe lung disease doing that. Oh, and unless you use O2, people with lung disease are among the "invisibly" disabled...because in our society you have to have "props" to be seen as "truly" disabled and deserving of help...such as wheelchairs. If you don't appear "disabled" good luck!

Anonymous said...

I have long believed that depression is the most disabling impairment we deal with. Depression is not just being sad, as some of our politicians like to believe, but a fundamental loss of will that takes from a person their ability to function. It may be that the "right attitude" is important in success, as well as just pure luck, but the "wrong attitude" does make it impossible to function for many people.

The mistake is in believing that attitude is something you can control. For the severely depressed, whether due to what has happened to them in life, chronic illness, or just who they are, being told to just be happy is idiotic advice. And it leads to believing that someone crippled by depression, along with whatever other medical problems they have, could just be fine if they really wanted to. It doesn't work like that.

Anonymous said...

Anonamous 9:55, actually it is probably about a black as it is about a sports star... I have seen mental attitude improve a persons mental and physical impairments. Anonamous 9:42, no one's future is determined by the decisions they make at 3 years old. One of my favorite sayings is, "It's one thing to be born in a broken down trailer, it's another thing to die in a broken down trailer". This is the land of opportunity. One claimant I had in front of me, we figured out her benefits that she recieved being on welfare. She would have to make $20.00 an hour to have the equivalent if she was working. Alas, her skill set would get her no more than $8.00-9.00 an hour. Whose fault? Societies? I think not..

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:23 says that some random claimant would have to make $22.00/hour to obtain the equivalent in what they receive in Welfare benefits. A person earning that amount would have a yearly income of around $45,000.00 The most generous Welfare programs in the world do not pay anywhere near that amount under any circumstances. Even in a situation where housing was being provided, I cannot imagine any set of circumstances where that comment would be factual.

So, if you document what you say, prove it. If not, then you are just another troll And worse, if you really are an ALJ, then I suppose that is part of the problem. You demonstrate no understanding of depression or mental health generally.

Anonymous said...

This person was in Ohio, a very friendly welfare state. She got a cash supplement, a telephone, housing, Food stamps, medical insurance, supplemented utilities, bus fare, cable television supplement to include internet and a few others. She had everything she needed to live. And it wasn't $22.00 an hour, it was $20.00 and hour. Liberals can't even quote properly. Oh, by the way, depression may be situational, which has a great deal to do with mental attitude and most of our claimant's suffer situational depression. Try going to a psych office and not get a diagnosis. It is their job to diagnose mental illness and according to them everyone has it. Either that or malingering..

Anonymous said...

Ohio Welfare amounts

Maximum for an individual it’s $115.00 in General Assistance if disabled.

Housing Assistance is short term. There are subsidies and there is §8 Housing with very limited openings. At best, a low income rental would be between $500.00 and $750.00 per month. Throw in the utilities and we’re still under a $1,000.00.

Food Stamps are $189.00.

Bus passes, cable TV, internet. Lets throw in another $100.00 worth of benefits at best.

Add it all up and you get at most $1,500.00 per month.

Multiply by 12 and you get $18,000 for the year. Substantially less than the $41,600 ($20.00 x 2080) you claimed.

Troll on.

Anonymous said...

Thou knowest not what thou sayeth..

Anonymous said...

1145 Troll left out health insurance and prescriptions drugs. Troll not lest thee be a troll.