Being anti-vaccine might be some sort of mental disorder

According to Wikipedia, a mental disorder can be described as “a mental or behavioral pattern or anomaly that causes either suffering or an impaired ability to function in ordinary life (disability), and which is not developmentally or socially normative. Mental disorders are generally defined by a combination of how a person feels, acts, thinks or perceives.” I’m no psychiatrist, and I make no claims to know all about the human mind and how it works. Heck, there are times when I can’t even understand me. But look at that definition and then look at this:


This woman worries so much about vaccines that she spends “hours and hours” in “researching the issues with the vaccines and worrying” about nothing. Notice how she has not seen any of the bad things that she has convinced herself (or has been convinced of by anti-vaccine celebrities), but she still wants to believe in them. She still knows through her “research” (which probably does not include any kind of coursework at an accredited institution) that vaccines are horrible. But, when she looks under the bed and doesn’t see a monster, it is “overwhelming” to her.

Read it for yourself. Because vaccinated children around her are not “lost” or “stolen” by vaccines she is overwhelmed. She is in a state of panic that, through her own admission, is irrational. If this is not a mental disorder, I don’t know what it.

Sadly, this is par for the course for many people who want to believe in the lies that they’re told about vaccines, the government, aliens, whatever. If they are true believers and they are confronted with something that is tangible, that they can see for themselves but doesn’t fit their view of the world, they feel overwhelmed. It’s like the devout person who follows a messiah that turns out to be human. Their ego can’t take the blow, so they try to rationalize it.

This is not the case with a truly rational person. A truly rational person sees the facts and accepts them for all that they’re worth. Rational people don’t freak out because the Earth revolves around the Sun. They don’t call for someone’s head because the science shows itself in everyday things more than their irrational beliefs.

I feel really sad for this woman that she has to worry her mind with these things when she could be doing much more productive things. She could leave the vaccine skepticism to people who go to school and learn about immunology, biology, microbiology, and virology and earn degrees after having their “research” tested over and over again to make sure that they’re doing it right. Instead, she chooses to be worried and anxious about her friends’ children who are NOT sick from vaccines, who DO NOT fit the description of vaccinated children that we see day after day in anti-vaccine blogs and videos. I almost want to reach out, hug her, and tell her that healthy children are an okay thing in this world, not something to feel overwhelmed about.

13 thoughts on “Being anti-vaccine might be some sort of mental disorder

  1. Pingback: Maybe that “mental disorder” crack was a bit too much? | The Poxes Blog

  2. IANAP*, but I agree with Observing Party, it’s more like extreme narcissism, which is a personality trait that can be part of several personality disorders. She is convinced that she is right, despite all the evidence available to her. She does all this “research”, all this worrying, unlike the other blissful, ignorant moms who vaccinate. It is such a burden being so enlightened and special.

  3. I’m not particularly comfortable with portraying this as mental illness. Yes, some people who are against vaccines may have a mental illness that is driving their beliefs (e.g., delusions, etc.), but the simpler explanation is cognitive dissonance. We all have beliefs that, for whatever reason, we latch onto and invest emotion into. Perhaps someone we really admire and trust told us, and for them to be wrong would feel like a major betrayal of that trust. At any rate, when it’s challenged, we see it as a personal attack. Even the most rational person can feel that questioning some cherished belief is the same as attacking them as a person. That is part of being human, and I’d hesitate to pathologize that way of thinking. Unless it is clearly rising to the level that the person has profound difficulty functioning in daily life, and I’m talking more than just added stress or discomfort, I’d caution against armchair diagnosis. And I’d certainly argue against doing that based on very limited sampling.

    Reuben, you know I like your writing, but I think you missed the mark on this post.

  4. I bristled at Reuben’s discription (I have a mental disorder and I resent being compared to anti-vaxxers), but I think he may have a point with anti-vaxxers like this person. Others are a different story.

    Many we see at least claim to know of several “victims” of vaccines, the sister’s cousin’s mother’s friend’s husband’s nephew and the like. This person freely admits they have never once experienced it personally. But they still KNOW. And it’s causing them troubling anxiety. It might be a obsessive-subtype OCD (what I actually have) but it sounds more like a major disassociation from reality.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if many anti-vaxxers have personality disorders, which can be much more damaging to other people than mental disorders like anxiety or the mood/affect (depression and bipolar) disorders. Specifically Cluster B, like Narcissism and Histrionicism. The definition of an “indigo” as championed by many antivaxxers has a lot in common with the diagnostic criteria for these.

    Of course, never blame something else when the most obvious answer is stupidity. Am I comfortable with antivaxxers all being labeled as having a mental disorder? No, because it inherently connects the too, and many with mental disorders have the resonance to accept science and reason in most aspects of their lives. However, I’d say for this person, and people with her reasoning, fear of vaccines is merely one way her mental disorder is making itself known.

  5. I can’t see any evidence in this rant to suggest that this person is other than a selfish, envious, cow who realises, deep-down (very deep), that she’s placed her kids at risk for no good reason.

    I don’t think it’s necessarily the case that this person behaves as they do because they have a mental illness.

  6. I believe it definitely falls into the category of cognitive-dissonance….see, she “knows” that vaccines are harmful, yet she sees not a single person around her that has been negatively effected by vaccines.

    Despite this, she “knows” her position is correct…….yet she can’t get over the fact that there is no real evidence (even in front of her) that what he believes is real….but she still believes.

    There is something wrong with that woman…and a number of other anti-vax lunatics.

    • Dorit: I understand what you are saying, but, this woman does fit the definition that Reuben has used. The writer (and I feel a lot of pity for her), by her own words, spends “hours and hours” researching, but doesn’t have her beliefs supported by what she finds and what she sees in real life. This is causing her a lot of distress. Most uf us would (reluctantly!) change our beliefs to fit what we see and learn. This woman hugs her beliefs tightly and can’t understand why the world doesn’t fit her beliefs. A refusal to change in the face of reality – and a refusal to accept reality – is a form of mental illness (cognative dissonance).

  7. I’m sorry, I’m not comfortable with this. It reads too much like an attack on those with mental illnesses or disabilities. And as absolving the anti-vaccine from responsibility for their choices.

    Being anti-vaccine is not a mental illness, and those who are mentally ill do not deserve the comparison. Most mental illness are not destructive in the way that spreading anti-vaccine misinformation can be. You can be anti-vaccine and mentally ill; you can be pro-vaccine and mentally ill; but these are two separate discussions, in my view.

    • I’m sorry, but I’m with Reuben here. When someone refuses to accept well established facts, chooses to ignore observed factual reality, then goes on at great length ranting about how their beliefs are not being observed as fact, but continues to defend those beliefs, there is a break with reality.
      Now, many have their own various neuroses, that does not make them insane.
      But, substituting one’s own invented reality in the place of reality is part of the definition of disassociation. One then must observe to ascertain if a true break with reality has occurred, rather than a brief disconnection. If there is a true delusion or simply an error in comprehending facts.

    • Most mental illness are not destructive in the way that spreading anti-vaccine misinformation can be.

      They’re not qualitatively similar, but the so-called mood disorders (as distinguished from “personality disorders”) can be catastrophically destructive to those affected. I think that’s what Reuben’s getting at.

      I would certainly concur with the proposition that it’s a hopelessly broad brush, though.

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