Advocates can be stigmatizing. Moreover, mental health advocates are the most stigmatized.
Advocates disparage each other’s names, making outrageous claims about their ‘worthiness’ as fellow advocates. Going as far as debasing other people’s skill sets, questioning them, and even being openly critical of why you or I became an advocate.
At the root of it, they are pathologizing advocates. I have met them. These folks believe people with schizophrenia and the more severe diagnoses are less likely to heal and recover. They feel a certain way about people with my diagnosis, to be more precise. We are less than, sicker, and less trustworthy to adhere to our treatment.
Not Trustworthy or Credible
I’ve heard advocates say downright nasty things about people with schizophrenia. Some of them might seem like they are even cheering you on, albeit condescending. Others will be openly critical and negative towards people with more severe and complex clinical pictures.
Advocates have also attempted to gaslight me. Stigmatizing other advocates given bias, discrimination, diagnosis, and everything wrong is nothing new in the public mental health system.
Earlier this year, I was in a car accident due to my unresolved sleep apnea and was overworked. At the time, a peer I was working with had difficulty reaching me on the phone. The peer couldn’t contact me because I was out of town at a conference and was unreachable due to a car accident.
When I regained access to my phone, it was already ringing from this peer. I explained to the peer that I was in a car accident. That was when the peer made inferences about my sobriety and mental health. I was appalled.
My car accident wasn’t an indicator that I was relapsing. But for this peer, it was enough of an indicator to turn on me. Suddenly, past completed projects weren’t up to par, and there were instances (according to this peer) that I was unprofessional. When I asked him if he could speak positively about our work to date, he said: “No.”
My peer’s meter stick for assessing my health were unreachable, and having car issues. If this isn’t hypocrisy, my following statement will make you cringe. Isn’t being a peer and providing authentic peer support mean not being judgemental and creating a space to listen and support their peers with the issues they define as the ‘problem’?
Absolutely, but back to my original theory. Advocates, even peer advocates, can be stigmatizing. The impact is catastrophic for people expecting direct and non judgemental support in the system. We need to do something about this and expose people who harbor these ideas and discharge them from their jobs as advocates.