What’s wrong with “Stigma Busting” Campaigns?

They sell psychiatric drugs.
They sow confusion.
They aren’t really about having an honest discussion.
They tend to take a non-recovery oriented, or medical model, approach.
They excuse bad behavior.
They are doctrinaire – based on opinion and pseudo-science rather than on fact and hard science.
They distract from REAL oppression concerns.
They call for cosmetic rather than substantial change.
They are mostly about begging for increased funding.

I’ve heard people talk about “stigma” as a term that has been co-opted from the mental health consumer and psychiatric survivor movement by the mental health establishment and the drug industry, and that’s exactly what it is. “Stigma” is now said to be behind some people’s reluctance to enter the mental health system while the numbers of people within that system are growing by leaps and bounds. Do we really need more people claiming they have a ‘mental illness” than the many that we’ve already got? “Mental illness” labeling, according to reports, has reached epidemic proportions.

If there’s any stigma involved it’s much less a matter of how people are viewed in the media than of how they are actually treated in the world. A psychiatric history can make gaining anything more than substandard employment hard to impossible. Those records are also frequently used against people in courts of law, and they are currently used to violate the 2nd amendment right to bear arms of people who have been institutionalized at any time in the recent past.

The end of prejudice and discrimination begins with an end to forced treatment. No other branch of medical science imprisons people, and then calls this imprisonment of people an acceptable medical practice. The records associated with this maltreatment are only necessary so long as psychiatric treatment is akin to criminal prosecution, and the authorities feel they need to keep some kind of permanent record. This permanent record would be a record of what amounts to mistreatment if this group of people were covered by the US constitution.

The problem is not media misrepresentation, the problem is actual mistreatment. Any member of the staff at a mental health facility can abuse a patient, and know they will get off with little more than a knuckle rapping. This mistreatment would not be taking place if people within the mental health system were treated like anything more than second class citizens. You can get away with harming and murdering a fraction of a human being, slavery taught us that, you just can’t, as a rule, get away with murdering a human being whom the US constitution protects.

Let’s restore to people in the mental health system those rights we’ve accorded to everybody else. When this is done, you won’t have people complaining about any “stigma” because slandering, abusing, and violating any of the people who have been through that system will be a prosecutable offense the way it is with the rest of the population. When they are not governed by the same laws as the general run of humanity, and when they are governed by stricter laws instead, you know there has been foul play. There has been foul play, and it is that foul play that continues.

11 Responses

  1. Re: Constitutional rights:

    The answer is to make sure every citizen is granted “equal protection” under the law… and that no group is given “special protection”…

    Because “special protection” equals “less protection”.

    We see this every day in this country, with the expedited mental case hearings; he effort to make certain a “mentally ill” person is given “immediate treatment”… These are the things that have made it impossible to make sure Constitutional rights are upheld, and that the burden of proof that someone poses an iminent threat are heard in a court of law, with adequate legal protection; real counsel and advocacy.

    Re: Stigma

    The answer is appreciation of full recovery.
    When more people begin to fully recover from a breakdown (by not putting them into the mental health system to begin with); when more people go to work, and pay taxes and build lives in the communities where they live; when the public begns to understand that a breakdown is an episodic event, not a person, there will be no reason to remove stigma. There will be no stigma left to remove.

    Another great post!


    • Regarding “when more people go to work, and pay taxes and build lives” Once a person goes through the machinery of psychiatry, the crazy making factory,they are usually on legal drugs and conditioned to BE and think as a mental patient.
      If the person is not genuinely praising psychiatry or parroting the lies of psychiatry convincingly , they do not get released from the hospital-that-isn’t-a-jail.

      • I agree.
        We have a ways to go.


      • Very true. You play their game and you get discharged, or you don’t play their game and you don’t get discharged. Honesty is not what the mental health system is all about. It’s about submission (eg. compliance, adherence, etc.) to authority. People who have been through the system need to expose it for what it is. Your time is not your own in the hospital system, neither is your voice. You say whatever you must to get back to the world of the living. You are unfree until you manage to regain your freedom, and you only regain that freedom by doing whatever it takes to get discharged. You’re not going to get total transparency in a system that demands so much dishonesty, and so it is up to us to expose it for what it actually is. Hospitalization is actually more about authoritarian power than it is about anything else. Dialogue doesn’t take place in a hospital setting, not dialogue among equals anyway. You’ve just got your would-be benevolent dictators telling their subjects what they demand of them.

    • Yes, and yes. The real “stigma” is mental health law. Legislators have proclaimed difference a treatable disease. In this case, treatable disease means prosecutable offense. Difference is not a prosecutable offense in a more tolerant world.

      It is awfully hard for recovery to take hold where the psychiatric system is trying, very persuasively in some instances, to convince certain people of their innate and biological inferiority to other people. This is especially true where the sole basis for this sense of inferiority is derived from hospital treatment/psychiatric imprisonment.

      This is all about power, change the power dynamics, and you get a different result. I’ve seen so many people who’ve come out of this system convinced that they are absolutely incapable of accomplishing anything of worth. I wish I could send them all a complimentary copy of The Little Engine that Could.

  2. “The end of prejudice and discrimination begins with an end to forced treatment.”

    Do you all know about this? Great comments on both links too.

    From the Daily Mail:


    From Patricia Deegan’s blog:


    Scary stuff.

    • Not really, but the prospect is scary. Although it doesn’t say anything about the uses to which these pills might be put in the mental health field, you know it’s coming.

      However Nick Pickles, of civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, said: ‘This technology has massive potential benefits for healthcare, but it should not be adopted at the expense of patient privacy.

      What patient privacy!? Everybody in the mental health system is supplying information to the government. It can’t be a fluke that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the USA calls its mental health data retrieval system “surveillance”. If you’re in the mental health care system, Big Brother is right there watching over your shoulder. You are being monitored.

      Even scarier is the fact that they mention older patients possibly needing to take 5 “medications” a day. We really have an over-medication problem in this country that extends way beyond the mental health system. What is this really about? Corporate greed. The article claims that 400 million pounds a year are lost in untaken “medications”. Who is paying the drug companies for these drugs? It isn’t the patients, they can’t afford it. It is the taxpayers that are paying for it. I can imagine alarms going off in the future over information coming back from peoples microchip to the government that somebody has gone off his or her meds. Next thing you know, the thought police are at somebody’s door, and they are ready to take that person downtown.

  3. Did you take this post down? “Mental health treatment, community, and collective amnesia.”

    I found it thoughtful and insightful. You are absolutely right regarding social context, conception and happy endings.

    • Yes. I deleted it not over content so much as form. I think it reflected my views well enough, I just didn’t think it held together as it should have done. Had it received any comments, it would probably still be up, but now it’s too late. I will be dealing with the same themes in the future, you just won’t find them expressed in the same fashion.

      • It wasn’t there when I clicked over to your site or I would have commented. I thought it was a well written piece.

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