In Sickness and In Health


Marriage isn’t doing as well as it once may have. The greatest amount of attention is heaped onto the issue of gay marriage and as that concept emerges in different societies and countries, you might expect the number of married people in the world to increase or at least the number of those marriages that are successful. In fact, the institution is collapsing, fast. Both the act of declaring that you have irreconcilable differences with your spouse and the act of figuring out what those differences consist of are multi-million dollar industries, as is the encroaching lobbyism for new forms of taxation that make marriage a much less attractive option for young couples. Equally, the right side of the aisle consistently believe that the modern neo-liberal lifestyle precludes the young and in love from even being interested in doing so, whilst the bureaucratic elements they love to slowly shift into the place continue to alienate the concept, even and especially in secular circumstances.

So why then, when such vast swathes of the population being affected by the issue, is it still on the list of things used to disparage people with mental illnesses? True enough, in the case of Bipolar disorder, successful marriages are well into the ninety-eighth percentile. It’s consistently touted that this failure rate occurs when just one of the couple, husband or wife, has Bipolar disorder as if to immediately assign blame. Phrased in this manner, this statistic – and the intrinsic disparagement it places on people, only seems to appear in reference to Bipolar disorder. Every other interpretation of the data I have encountered prefers more euphemistic terms: at the very least these studies prefer to make mention of ‘people on the X spectrum’ or ‘people with symptoms prevalent in Y illness.’ This serves a sense of objectivity and the margin of errors that studies predictably have feel more comfortable this way but I’m irked by the insinuation that Bipolar itself isn’t at least somewhat situated on a spectrum. That it doesn’t have extremes and moderations and that it somehow isn’t as complex or as pernicious an illness as any other learning difficulty. Of course, my personal bias is at play but isn’t that surely the point of peer-reviewed evidence, to draw a proportional amount of attention to these findings? They why isn’t something being done about almost 100% failure rate of the most critical relationship in these people’s lives?

A happy, fulfilling marriage isn’t something that any authority is allowed to take away from even those with the most severe of learning difficulties. Since the turn of the century, the undignified and demeaning ways we legislated the mentally ill have begun to fall away in file. Firstly, with the historic rulings that those who weren’t dangerous to others could not be forced into an institution and secondly, the ruling that those people living with mental illnesses and learning difficulties could not be steralised. When the time came, these pieces of legislation were knocked down with little resistance and with a significant level of public approval at every stage. Other demographics that have faced a lack of acceptance or some degree of oppression or another, such as those of a migrant or LGBT concern, still have to push supportive legislation past different moral and political objections. Almost no one, right or left, traditional or modern, objects to the disabled having a bankable, substantial quality of life. Nor does any significant body of the public object to people having a happy marriage and would only wish the same for themselves.

In spite of all this wellwishing though, marriage continues to do poorly across the world. And while there is vital importance in managing the expectations of people with a new diagnosis, it’s also important not to disparage them, to set them up to fail. There is no reason that Bipolar people cannot be the agent of change in their marriage that would return the institution to its former glory and there’s little reason why they wouldn’t find that difficult. So let’s not lump the weight of centuries onto the shoulders of the vulnerable.

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