Despite all the talk and “chatter” on the internet to put mental health issues at the forefront of social reform and make the crisis more visible reformers continue to fail. Let me be frank, “normal” folks are totally unaware of what a mental health diagnosis really means for people.
The unwarranted fear, paranoia, discrimination, and untoward hostile attitudes continue to be held against people carrying a mental health diagnosis.
Stigma exists and is very alive today. The original aim of this conversation was to arm allies with the information to disarm stigma in the mental health system. As the writing unfolded, this feat proved more difficult and less convincing as I re-read my own article prior to publishing it for the dissemination. The insidious and covert nature of stigma not only rendered my talk here more difficult when it comes to believability but utterly beguiling when it time to conceptualize how to unearth it from the mental health system. I am hoping to at least supply readers with an accurate breadth of knowledge on how stigma manifests in society and what to do to disable its polarizing and misleading insidious powers to conceal violent “isms” and make them so difficult to identify and eradicate.
“He’s crazy, she’s bipolar, he’s manic”
Language; Wording, & Creating a Culture rife with Healthy Stances towards Mental Health
We’ve heard these popular sayings and digs at people we attack or misunderstand in our lives without justification. We hear them, and for the most part, do not interject or intercede when these violent misuses of verbs and abhorrent adjectives make people the object of ignorance. But is ignorance a license to ever be hateful? No. is ignorance even an explanation for this misuse of language? I would hazard to say in most cases ignorance is not an explanation and also not the reason language continues to be misused when it comes to talking about mental health and people we objectify with a so-called mental health disorder.
Misinformation continues to objectify people with a mental health diagnosis. What do I mean by objectifying? In the words of Edward Said in his many works contesting the notion of the nation-state and identity politics, I am appropriating his application of how language works and applying it to the crisis in the mental health community and those who have faced discrimination because of their “disorder”. Simply put, how people identify and in turn, identify with “others” is a dangerous walk on the slippery slope to objectification. Othering serves to not only create an object of hatred but also of people’s discrimination.
“Othering” divides us.
The people with a diagnosis and the people who do not carry one are all involved in the slippery slope of objectification. Sure, some of us benefit from labeling and having a diagnosis. People can use this information in small healthy doses to read up on their issues and learn more about what so many others struggle. But othering has a negative and insidious side too. Othering not only serves to characterize people with a mental health diagnosis as different, but it can AND is used as a mechanism to divide us up amongst ourselves as peers or people in the mental health community.
I hear it all the time. We even use language to describe our own shortcomings as if we need or even should supply our fellow peers with a humorous anecdote to explain away normal behavior:
e.g. “I must have been crazy! What was I thinking?”
There are several strategies to change the way we use language to disarm stigma at the very level of language. One of the simplest methods is inserting the verb “to be” when talking about a diagnosis. As in: “I am a person with a bipolar diagnosis”. There are many ways to rethink the uses of language.
Nobody’s mental health is perfect. I don’t even know what perfect really means when it comes to health or wellness. Remember, even the “healthiest” people have strengths and weaknesses. Even which practices are the best or the healthiest is always up for contestation. What is not up for debate or contestation is always striving to use the healthiest practices in our lives and within the culture, we create at every level of community.
Why, then, is society so adamant and vigilant to discriminate against people carrying a so-called (un)-and/or-disclosed mental health diagnosis?
I am suggesting mental illness’ invisibility also speaks to its ability to radically transform through this lens of objectification. Unquestionably, these lenses, while just that, one way of seeing or conceptualizing illness are as rampant out there in society as they are toxic. These devices continue to limit the potential of people with a so-called diagnosis and restrict them to a subordinate role in society in broad strokes.
Objectification has been mobilized to create and propagate lies and other “isms” for far too long and must be stopped at all costs if we are to even disarm stigma in its tracks.