[Second in a series of short blog posts about the Scottish Parliament debate on Mental Health,Tuesday 6 January 2015, at which I was a spectator in the public gallery. Pulling out points that struck me as a common theme, a concern or a lack.]
The topic of Stigma ran through the speeches by government ministers although I didn’t hear so much about solutions to the problem and what the root of it might be. Rather there was a general agreement that the anti-stigma campaign hadn’t been successful in the longer term. Stating the obvious I thought.
Richard Simpson MSP (16.20) said: “the social attitudes survey of 2013 shows that some attitudes have not continued to improve and in some respects have gone backwards. What has been titled the refounding of the programme (See Me Scotland), which is overdue, places far too great an emphasis on very short, one-year programmes. We are beset by one-yearitis in our projects, whereas we should build on what has worked …” bolding is mine
I’m not sure “what has worked” in terms of combating stigma and discrimination in mental health and psychiatric settings. There are more psychiatric labels than ever with bipolar most popular of all. It has become OK to be bipolar whereas the schizophrenia appendage still separates a person out for “special treatment”.
[see my posts ‘The Drugs Don’t Work, and Bipolar Disorder is the Proof‘ on Mad in America and ‘Bipolar Disorder from where I’m standing: a Mother speaks out‘, written for Bipolar Scotland but not published by them]
Psychoses are seen as biological in basis, especially if you have more than one of them. Rather than existential wanderings, and understandable reactions to a painful world, trauma and situations beyond a person’s control. Psychiatric drugging a forced treatment for the “non-compliant” although some may be glad of the “medication”. Resulting in a degree of infantilisation where agency can be taken away and replaced with obedience to the prescriber.
Mark McDonald MSP said (17.03) “When we talk about one in four people being affected by a mental health problem, let us not beat about the bush. That means that 30-odd members of this Parliament could be affected by a mental health condition at some stage in their life.” Yet we don’t hear, or I haven’t heard, government ministers admitting to taking psychiatric medication or having been inpatients of mental hospitals.
Would having a psychiatric diagnosis or label exclude a person from serving as a Scottish member of parliament? I wonder about this. The discriminatory aspect of mental illness impacting upon a political career in Scotland. The separation of severe and enduring from common mental health problems (see Scottish Government’s Mental Health Strategy). That is stigma personified, consigned to a lifelong label. They tried it with me in 2002/3 but I resisted although the label remains, indelibly written despite recovery being achieved.
In ‘The other side of the fence: Iatrogenic stigma.‘ Hole Ousia blog, Dr Peter J Gordon writes:
“The term stigma refers to a mark that denotes a shameful quality in the individual so marked. Mental illness is widely considered to be such a quality. Goffman, in his classic text, defines stigma as ‘‘an attribute that is deeply discrediting’’ that reduces the stigmatized person ‘‘from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one’’. In Goffman’s view, stigma occurs as a discrepancy between ‘‘virtual social identity’’ (how a person is characterized by society) and ‘‘actual social identity’’ (the attributes really possessed by a person).”
and concludes by saying:
“If Psychiatry can overcome its fears and tackle all the heads of stigma, most particularly by truly listening to its patients, it can only be to the benefit of the profession and patients alike.” I agree.
I would also ask for government ministers to truly listen to people in their communities who are psychiatric survivors and mental health campaigners. Let us have a voice and be heard equally alongside paid workers in mental health organisations. It shouldn’t be about consensus but a range of views and accepting difference. MSPs helping in the fight against stigma.