Friday, 27 September 2013

I'm laughing so hard it's killing me

I know I've been writing a lot about my Broken Brain recently, and I'm on the fence as to whether or not this belongs on a blog which I try to keep focused on social justice stuff. Mental health issues are social justice issues, but my own personal breakdown - not so much. That said, I think a personal account of depression/BPD/anxiety can be a powerful tool in breaking down stigma. So on the fence I remain.

But then I got hit by a one-two set of news stories which reinforced exactly why I talk about this as openly as I can: because it matters, because one in four people will have mental health problems in their lifetime, and because so few people will talk about it, and because this stigma is literally deadly.

1. Asda has been selling a "Mental Patient Fancy Dress Costume".

Because we're not real people! We're just horror movie staples!

Because we're so dangerous! We fucking love running after people with meat cleavers! It's not like we're no more likely to commit violent crimes than anyone else, and actually significantly more likely to be the victims of violent crimes! (I know I drag this stat out a lot, but apparently this has not revolutionised social attitudes to mental health yet!)

Because people with mental health problems are Other, surely a teeny tiny minority of the population, so massive supermarket chains don't need to worry about pissing us off!

2. People with mental health problems are significantly more likely to die from preventable illnesses.

There's a lot of reasons behind this, and I don't pretend to know all of them; but I do know that an overwhelming majority of the medical professionals I've dealt with since developing depression have had serious tunnel vision: whatever it is I seek help for, I inevitably end up answering questions on self-harm or suicide attempts or anxiety. Remember Dr Dickface McBullyo? I sought help for a problem with my heart; without doing a single diagnostic test or asking any further questions, he told me I was having a panic attack. Turns out I had supraventricular tachycardia. This isn't actually life-threatening, but these stats suggest a lot of people aren't so lucky.

Of course doctors have to make decisions very quickly and it makes sense to take a person's medical history into account, but this shows, with terrible clarity, that those decisions are being dangerously coloured by social stigma.
The belief that persons with mental illness are dangerous is a significant factor in the development of stigma and discrimination (Corrigan, et al., 2002). The effects of stigma and discrimination are profound. The President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health found that, “Stigma leads others to avoid living, socializing, or working with, renting to, or employing people with mental disorders - especially severe disorders, such as schizophrenia. It leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking and wanting to pay for care. Responding to stigma, people with mental health problems internalize public attitudes and become so embarrassed or ashamed that they often conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment (New Freedom Commission, 2003). (From the Violence and Mental Illness link.)
  Funny-ha-ha mad people Halloween costumes don't seem like so much of a giggle now, huh?

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