Fighting Stigma

Pros and Cons of Labels

I gave our latest guest writer, JP,  a question to muse over. Her reply is below. I think this debate is important. (It’s also worth checking out Stephen Pinker’s concept of the Euphemism Treadmill, and possibly looking in to non-duality). Over to JP:

Pros and Cons of labels???  Mmmm? Where do I start??

We all use and need labels, you may think – no, we don’t,  but with inanimate objects it is a must.  Imagine clothing, shoes, functional items without them! Imagine having a young child asking you “What is that?”, A cow / pig / sheep / horse? No name / label, no definition between the two. Yes, tis a simplistic view, however, it is still accurate.
I fully understand the animosity towards labelling human beings when this system is used to ostracise and define that person.  Conveniently putting them in a ‘box’ to fit a labeller’s ideology.
The problem arises, for us all, when we are ‘seen’ judged and related to as ‘the label’ yet, it happens all the time.  We are all brought up to believe and understand an item / animal / human by the label we attach to it. A cow moos, a sheep baas, we eat beef, lamb, chicken, we use cows for leather etc etc.  The list is endless.
This label also applies to our expectations of the sexes. As per our recent telephone conversation – define ‘feminine’???? Define ‘masculine’?? Both these labels immediately conjure up in our minds a learned, pre conceived notion as to which criteria fits each label, and, most of us are incorrect.
We may protest!! I don’t label people, yet, in fact, all of us are guilty of it.
With any health problem, the correct diagnosis is vital, otherwise, incorrect treatment ensues, sometimes with fatal consequences.  However, the label diabetic / heart problem / Crohn’s disease / cancer etc very rarely scares people or leads to avoidance of said person, judgement and ridicule. Most people with a physical health problem, who choose to share their label, receive some compassion and empathy, not the case with MH problems.
Why? You may ask? The unpalatable truth is ignorance and fear, it really is that simple.  The notion that the sufferer is weak, has asked to be ill, is not only ludicrous but proves the point that acceptance of MH problems as an illness, with a myriad of physical and social  causes, still has a very long way to go.
Too often with MH problems, the persons personality is totally ignored. One sufferer will not display the same symptoms as another, despite the convenient ‘label’, yet it is vital to attain a correct diagnosis.  The treatments for depression/schizophrenia/phsychosis/anxiety/paranoia/delusions are all completely different and a label is necessary to enable patient to access correct medication and support.
The above, is where a label is helpful, as , long as it is  correct label.  Problems arise after treatment when sufferers are defined by said label. We do not introduce someone to a group of people as ‘Peter the diabetic/epileptic/minus his gall bladder’ etc.  So, we ask ourselves why do we introduce others as ‘Peter the schizophrenic/depressive/  bipolar’ ?????
The effect of doing this is often catastrophic.  Immediately most lay people are ‘on their guard’  scared even, they have heard all the scare stories about ‘People like that’ and ostracization and embarrassed mutterings, rapidly ensue.
Nobody gets to know the real ‘Peter’ expectations of being stupid/dangerous/crazy abound,  the friendship is not offered, the job refused, with various dubious reasons as to why you were re butted. Times are slowly changing, yet education is the key.  As sufferers we can do a lot, I feel no shame with my MH diagnosis, that shame belongs to others, my family members (some)  the media and some of the ‘older generation’ who were happy to send their offspring and suffering relatives off to the asylum ( all hush hush) and never visit, or speak about them again.
No longer are children with ‘Down’s syndrome’ sent to asylums, same with epileptics, yes, progress is slow,  but, we must remember this when fighting the stigma of so  called ‘unseen’ MH problems.  We cannot hope to educate and inform people who do not wish to learn.  Those who are happy in their ignorance, which is based on fear and prejudice, yet we can hopefully stop being forced to be ‘ashamed’ of our MH diagnosis and be more open about it and willing to discuss its origins and treatments.
I have blue eyes, my personality,  capabilities, behaviour are not judged on that fact.  I also have a MH diagnosis.  I asked for neither and I had no control over each event. Am I judged on my MH diagnosis?? Sometimes, however, I have learned that such ignorance will take time and effort to dissipate, also, those sort of people are ‘not for me’.  I ‘shun’ their kind .  Their label does not sit well with me.
The above are simply my personal observations and thoughts,  on said topics.  I have given my permission to Mike from @MenHealUk to use and publish such ruminations as long as my initials are attached to said documentation. I am not a professional! Just an ordinary lady, who has encountered MH problems and the many stigmas attached to us.
Cheers  JP
Copyright JP 2015

Is it really time to talk?

Amazing blog post on mental health stigma, and how talking about it can help end stigma. Great male perspective on this topic.


I was really interested to read Andrew Fifita’s interview this morning  .  For those of you that aren’t Rugby League fans, Andrew Fifita is a huge name at international level, and his admissions about his battle with depression is probably akin to a top premiership footballer saying the same here in the UK.  Rugby League in New South Wales is as big as footy here, with a relentless media machine.

Andrew Fifita’s comments are so honest.  The sentence that hit home with me the hardest is where he says that he ‘felt that there was no joy to life’.  I’ve felt that way at times when the black dog of depression has got me, and to hear someone else say it makes me realise it’s not just me. I’ll never meet Andrew Fifita but to read the exact same feeling from him as I’ve felt 12,000 miles away is powerful.

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