A War Never Won

There’s one thing nearly every one of us who struggle with our mental health undoubtedly experience at least once in our lives: stigma. Some of it is intentional, some of it is out of sheer ignorance. All of it is because of misunderstanding.

Mental illness is often portrayed as the reason for a villain’s violent outburst, a weakness in an otherwise “normal” protagonist, a malicious strength of an antagonist. Negativity surrounds the very mention of the terms.  There are movies and stories of successful individuals with mental health issues, but we rarely see those kind of characters in, say, a supporting role where their illness isn’t in the spotlight. Bringing knowledge to the struggles we face everyday is never a bad thing. However, by giving us a spotlight they make a bold statement: “these people have struggles and they’re different from everyone else.” Granted, we do think differently than others and some of us act much differently than the average person but we all want to live a life we’re content with. By singling out a few stories people have managed to generalize the crazed actions of a very small amount of  people and associated them with all mental health issues.

A lot of campaigns on social media try and squander stigmas against mental illness through tags of #nomorestigma or uplifting, hopeful quotes. Others in the professional world think there’s one simple transformation needed to help stop stigma in it’s tracks: start changing names. For years now there’s been debates over whether calling mental health patients “clients” eased strain on both parties and whether or not it was more appropriate to say “bipolar” or “person with bipolar”. As I’ve stated many times and will continue to state, we are a culture strict on the political correctness of our labels.

But recently, at least in the last  two years or so, there’s been a lot of action in trying to change the name schizophrenia to…well, no one really knows. We’ve long since gotten rid of the previous subtypes of residual, catatonic, paranoid, undifferentiated, and disorganized for the newest edition of the DSM-V, but the general consensus for advocators of this change is that there is too much negativity attached to the term; people often assume those with schizophrenia to be violent murderers on a premeditated rampage. As a result people are often afraid of the diagnosis and those diagnosed are often devastated.

It’s a diagnosis with symptoms most people in the general public couldn’t fathom and anything people can’t understand,  anything where the bulk of the people’s understanding comes from stories, media, and stereotypes, frightens them. So would changing a simple word make much of a difference? Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) changed to Disassociative Identity Disorder(DID) but that didn’t seem to convince the speculative bunch of professionals that it exists anymore than it had termed as  MPD. There’s no speculation to whether or not those diagnosed with schizophrenia are in fact experiencing their symptoms but the theory is that if the name is removed the negative connotations will leave with it.

Now let’s break down the stupidity here piece by piece. Firstly, I’ve yet to see any writing released to the general public about DID where it did not include parenthesis saying “formally known as MPD”. No matter what we coined schizophrenia next, the term would always lurk around as the previous title and therefore carry around those pesky negative connotations. Secondly, those pesky negative connotations aren’t attached to the word, they’re attached to the symptoms. People are wary of the homeless man muttering incomprehensible words to himself under the assumption the voices he hears are a danger indefinitely. They’re disturbed by delusions their rationality keeps them from understanding. Flattened affect signals unsociable behavior and that alone is enough to keep someone fearful of you. These symptoms are more often than not portrayed as afflictions unconsolable, dangerous, and disturbing, and so fuels peoples disgust of them.

Most importantly, there’s a stigma attached to the entirety of mental illness. There’s stigmas against anxiety disorders, mood disorders, cognitive disorders, delusional disorders, and  personality disorders. Labels are just names for groups of symptoms after all, so it’s logical that when looking at two sets of the same behavior, one with a patient labeled schizophrenic and one with the same patient labeled as “salience syndrome”, people’s reactions we’re the same: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/marvin-ross/schizophrenia-name-change-sigma_b_4802958.HTML

Cultural relativism isn’t easy. Neither is illness relativism. It’s hard not to judge someone by how they act because behavior is one way humans naturally communicate just as it’s hard not to judge a culture by it’s rituals when we’re so custom to our own. It’s just a shame so many people take their sanity for granted.

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