People talk about how people with mental illnesses are often being stereotyped and stigmatised. People talk about how the society at large, do not not hold these mentally ill people in positive light. People talk about how this shouldn’t be the case, that better awareness in the society will help lessen the stereotyping and stigmatising.
We recognise the fact that we pass judgements off people who have mental illnesses.We acknowledge the fact that such stereotyping and stigmatising should be curbed, or even stopped. But the way i see it, and perhaps in others too, everything that is happening in the society contributes to this ‘phenomenon’. In fact, we even use it in our daily language- describing people as ‘siao’, ‘crazy’, ‘mad’, ‘lunatic’ etc. Derogatory? Perhaps that is a little harsh, but think about it. If you had a mental illness, or if your loved on has it, and someone tells you ‘Are you crazy???’, how would you feel?
There are many types of mental illnesses, and most of them are largely invisible. Mood disorders, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia and related disorders, eating disorders, dissociative disorders, somatoform and factitious disorders. So many types of illnesses, and even though we know that many of these are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, a large part the disorders are caused by the environment we live in.
What i cannot comprehend, is the treatment of people with mental illnesses. Most people are treated by psychiatrists, but i will refer to them as shrinks. Shrinks are medical doctors who have undergone training in psychiatry. Shrinks are usually the first person to interact with the patient. They are also the ones whom frequently follow up with the patient to titrate medications, and do necessary referrals to the rest of the healthcare team(like psychologists, nurses, social workers etc).
We speak about how our society has to accept people with mental illnesses. Yet, the shrinks who play an instrumental role in the care of such people, are the first ones who pass judgements on patients. I will say, that i know of psychiatrists who do not like patients with certain disorders, because they are irritating, annoying, self-absorbed and self-centred, selfish and whatever that comes to mind when you want to describe someone negatively. And i will also say that of all the people in the healthcare team, the words of the shrinks sting the most. Teary, uncooperative are some of the words they write down in progress notes. But think again. A lot of the words they use to describe the patients are a response to what the shrink has said or done, and the words used are very subjective.
If the psychiatrists are already passing judgements off their patients, how then, may i know, can the society embrace them with open arms? Nurses, i will say and dare say, are also guilty of it. And nurses, like the psychiatrists, are handicapped by the inability to empathise with the patients. They cannot understand what it is like to have a mental illness, and therefore they do not know how their patients want to be treated.
So how? If people with mental illnesses are already facing such stereotyping and stigmatising at a place where they receive ‘care’, how are they to return to the community, and expect that no one will do the same? They can’t! And that was why i mentioned before, that the society is deemed as the ‘outside world’, and a world that is ugly, while it is deemed as ‘safe’ when they are in psychiatric facilities(only because the only expectation is for you to get better), by people with mental illnesses. The society is seen as antagonistic by the these people. And that is because the society still views these people in a very different light. The person merges with the mental illness and becomes a single entity in the eyes of the lay person.
That holds true in the society, and even more so at the hands of the healthcare team. The patients have as though, sticky labels with their diagnosis/diagnoses bolded, on their foreheads. Then when you look at the patient, you look at the sticky label, and the patient ceases to be a person in the end, because the person has become the same entity as the mental illness.
How sad, isn’t it?
I would like to see, for one, the removal of the question in job application forms:
Have you ever been treated at a mental institution?
Having a mental illness is like having a criminal record. And it utterly disgusts me that these people, however capable they are, are being dismissed just because they had, or are having mental illnesses.
It doesn’t add up at all.
If psychiatrists and the related health professionals take the first step, then it would make a world of difference for these people. And if they themselves cease to pass judgements, stereotypes and stigmas on the people who have mental illnesses, i believe the society will warm up to it. It’ll take time, but we have to see that big step taken before anything else.
Thing is, psychiatrists are probably the ones who don’t even know that they are committing that error. And i find that really really sad.
The world is full of nonsense. *aargh*
(This post also relates to topics like HIV/AIDS, disability, racism etc.)