Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's in a name?

Recently I discovered a website called bring change 2 mind. Its mission is to fight the stigma that is faced by the mentally ill. While I'm thrilled that anybody cares enough for such a site to even exist, I was dismayed by their approach. It seems to consist mainly of word-tweaking (not using words such as crazy or mental, saying that a person "has schizophrenia" instead of "is schizophrenic") and story sharing without any real advocacy. This is particularly a problem when one reads the stories being shared and realizes that many of them are guilt-ridden confessions of how badly people feel they behaved before they got treatment. In fact, some of them have a sort of amazing grace quality, in which the sufferer of illness is portrayed as a poor sinner type figure and some drug or doctor or other, or a friend who "forced" them to get treatment becomes the sun of salvation. While I respect and support these people's right to tell their truths, I'm not sure that their manner of expression is helping their cause. I am concerned that it will instead confirm the widely held belief that most or all people with mental illness are burdens at best and dangerous at worst and that it is ok and even beatific to make their decisions for them. It also sends the message that one doesn't need to be smart or informed about their treatment, but that everything will work out fine if you just blindly throw yourself into it. To be fair, this approach has worked out for some people and could work out for you. Or, you could end up with Tardive Dyskinesia. This is what I posted on their site.

"I almost feel like we're fighting the wrong battle here. I checked out the "get involved" portion of this site and I'm not sure I agree with the bit about watching your language. I mean, it didn't seem to work very well for the cause against racial prejudice. We went through about a million different acceptable terms for describing dark skin tone and one by one each of them became viewed as derogatory because the underlying mindset hadn't changed. The problem as I see it isn't that people call us crazy, anymore than it's a problem that people with diabetes are called diabetic. The problem is that people think that means we are bad or scary, or that our character is somehow otherwise flawed.
Which brings me to another point. I am deeply saddened that so many people on this site have been made to feel that they need to apologize for their illness. No one here chose this for themselves, and I'll be really shocked if anyone here hasn't suffered just as badly as the people around them. It's also not your own fault if the people around you get stressed out and bail. It's really stressful being close to people with terminal cancer too, but no one blames them when they're abandoned by their loved ones. If you feel that you want or need to apologize for your actions that were within your control, that's commendable, but apologizing for aspects of your illness is like having tuberculosis and saying your sorry for coughing blood on the carpet. We're not bad people, our illness doesn't make us bad, and if we want other people to believe that, we're going to have to at least try to believe it ourselves."

Granted, it's really hard to not feel guilty and think everything's your fault when your self-esteem is in toilet, but I really think that apologizing for being ill is just as damaging as calling yourself or someone else crazy. But what do I know, I'm just a nutter.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. Guilt and blame are the foundation of the stigma they're supposedly trying to fight. I think a better advocacy approach would be to raise awareness about the ways that mental health problems are treated differently than other chronic problems (like diabetes or heart disease or anything else). I would like someone to say to me, "How you're feeling isn't your fault."