No, I argued the case through reference to generally accepted definitions and through generally accepted analogies.
...OK, maybe I needed paragraphs or something. Let's try again.
First, I don't think it's helpful to have this extreme dichotomy of "has a mental illness" (not his fault) vs. "doesn't have a mental illness" (arsehole!).
In the same way that people are not simply either physically healthy or physically unhealthy, but rather have a particular level of physical health along a continuum - so too, people have a certain level of mental health, on a continuum. It's not as simple as just "X = mental illness", "X ¬= mental illness". That's an unrealistic approach, and it's frequently harmful (both by treating those who 'qualify' as mentally ill as agency-less basket-cases, and by treating those who don't meet your threshold as undeserving of any compassion or concessions). [Even the DSM notes that, while they haven't yet worked out a sufficiently straightfoward way of describing continua to be clinically useful now, they expect to move toward a continuum model in future editions]
In particular, mental health problems are not always immediately visible - there's not a one-to-one correspondence with behaviour. So labelling a certain behaviour inherently "non-mentally-ill", or arseholery, is naive.
Again, it's the same as with physical fitness. If someone has difficult performing a certain physical task, it's fair to question whether they are physically fit. If they're not physically fit, it's fair to say that certain courses of action might improve their fitness. If their lack of physical fitness leads to a failure to perform actions it's their responsibility to perform, it's fair to say that they SHOULD if possible take those steps to get fitter. But what is not fair is to say that anyone who is unfit must be an arsehole, because there's no excuse for not owning their shit and getting fitter. Because you don't know the full circumstances of their case - you don't know their underlying physical and mental conditions, and you don't know their socioeconomic context.
In exactly the same way, this is true of mental illness too. If someone has difficulty performing a certain mental task, it's fair to question whether they are mentally fit. If they're not mentally fit, it's fair to say that certain courses of action might improve their fitness. If their lack of mental fitness leads to a failure to perform actions it's their responsibility to perform, it's fair to say that they SHOULD if possible take those steps to get fitter. But what is not fair is to say that anyone who is unfit must be an arsehole, because there's no excuse for not owning their shit and getting fitter. Because you don't know the full circumstances of their case - you don't know their underlying physical and mental conditions, and you don't know their socioeconomic context.
Second: no, mental health and patterns of behaviour are NOT separate issues. Not at all. Indeed, this is a paradigm case of how mental dysfunctions (mental health problems) are seen in everyday life for many people.
There are three key parts to identifying a mental disorder:
- a significant pattern or thoughts or behaviours
- leading to distress, and/or an impairment in an area of functioning (such as impaired interpersonal relationships, impaired social standing, etc), or increased risk of these things
- reflecting a behavioural or psychological dysfunction. "dysfunction" can be defined in various ways - the authors of the DSM5 suggest (following Fulford) that a dysfunctioning is simply functioning for the worse, as evaluated against the individual's conscious life goals and values. They also mention Wakefield's definition as a failure of a faculty to function in the way it has evolved to function - faculties like will enactment and rationality, mood control, etc.
What we have in the case of male conversational avoidance exactly fits that (DSM!) model:
- a pattern of avoiding certain conversations
- resulting in distress and impaired interpersonal relationships (and often risk of social, mental or physical harm)
- reflecting not a series of intentional preferences, but (in most cases) a dysfunction. By avoiding these conversations, the men in question are generally failing to achieve their own conscious goals - this is dysfunctional. And their failing to achieve their conscious goals because they are acting irrationally.
Common examples include:
- unwillingness to expose emotional truths to others, for fear of rejection. People may try to avoid this by framing their emotions through actions - as rejection of an action can be characterised as disagreement rather than essential rejection. For instance, people will often avoid saying "I want to do X" (exposing a private desire), but be comfortable saying "I have done X" (relating a factual action, without discussing the reasoning).
- similarly, unwillingness to discuss embarrassing or intimate subjects, from fear of scorn or from excessive self-disgust
- unwillingness to be seen to fail to adhere to allotted social roles, in particular to be seen to fail to be appropriately "manly". This is particularly acute in dealing with those who are directly involved in that role. For instance, men are often deeply resistent to revealing male "failure" to partners and children.
- anxious avoidance of disagreement.
These are all absolutely mental dysfunctions. They are absolutely the sort of thing you can get help with through therapy (or by other means).
They are NOT the same as just 'being badly socialised'. A lack of training in social situations leads to unpleasant experiences, which can provoke an entirely justified caution. But in situations where the long-term consequences of avoiding a conversation are potentially far greater than the potential brief awkwardness of the conversation itself, we're not talking about natural caution anymore, but about full-blown anxiety at best, and often more deep-seated issues.
I don't know why vampireshark's father avoiding telling them about their romantic emotions, avoided telling them that he planned to get married imminently, avoided telling them he was about to get married, and seemingly avoided telling him even that he had got married until the last possible moment before he'd have been 'exposed' by third parties. But given how upset most children would be by this - and given that he DID feel it necessary to confess eventually - it's unlikely to be the result of a fully rational assessment of costs and benefits.
Maybe he just doesn't care about vampireshark and it never occured to him to say anything - though even then a psychologist would probably suspect narcissitic disorder. Maybe he was being intentionally malicious for some reason (there's a bunch of disorders there). Or maybe it's nothing personal and he just never got around to it (procrastination, depression, Haltlose disorder, etc - or even bipolar, I guess).
Or, far more likely, he's just one of the countless men (and many women) who have a specific dysfunction in this area. Perhaps he has an irrationally extreme anxious aversion to unpleasant conversations; perhaps he feels guilty, or fears rejection, over a flagrant failure of masculinity (leaving one wife and rapidly marrying another one in Vegas is generally frowned upon); perhaps he instinctively fears exposing his emotions; perhaps he feels vampireshark has already rejected him and he's doing them a favour by not 'bothering' them with personal information. There are many reasons. They're probably bound up in social anxiety disorder, avoidant or dependent personality disorder, depression or similar. There's many different dysfunctions that could explain that weird behaviour. But what they have in common is that they are not cured simply by "owning your shit".
But the river tripped on her by and by, lapping
as though her heart was brook: Why, why, why! Weh, O weh
I'se so silly to be flowing but I no canna stay!