Eradicating ‘Stigma’, The New Sales Pitch For ‘Mental Illness’

It takes some stretching to put it in something resembling transactional analysis terms, but I think will give it a whirl. “I’m not Okay, but now that we have anti-stigma campaigns, it’s Okay not to be Okay.”

I guess I’m old fashioned. I still prefer Okay over not Okay.

Now we’ve got this problem of dissent and the mental health orthodoxy that didn’t exist 2 or 3 decades ago. You get the kind of thinking that runs if you don’t believe what we are saying to be true, you “stigmatize” the “mentally ill”, or more properly put, people with “mental illnesses”.

There is no “stigma” attached to mental health. There is a “stigma” attached to “mental illness”. Is there any “stigma” attached to recovering from a “mental illness”?

“Stigma”, once a brand or a tattoo, now refers to a more metaphoric or symbolic mark of disgrace. We have a problem in that, given this definition; use of the word itself is “stigmatizing”, or prejudicial. You can’t wash off disgrace any more than you can wash off the mark of Cain. When it is a matter of perception, maybe another word would be preferable.

Both words, “stigma” and recovery, are words that some people in the mad peoples movement claim have been co-opted by people who are in opposition to their wishes, aims, and rights. In the case of both words there is much legitimate truth to this accusation.

Recovery is now being used by pharmaceutical companies to sell pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals are one of the reasons why some people in treatment don’t recover. Recovery is now used by mental health professionals who feel most people who have been labeled with “serious mental illness” labels are incapable of recovering. Some of this recovery rhetoric has even degenerated into being applied to custodial care by another name. Custodial care, in some of these cases, has merely been transferred from a hospital setting to a community setting.

The idea is that there are all these “mentally ill” people out there who are not getting treatment they need because of “stigma”. The question here becomes who determines need, and where do we draw the line. The thing that is seldom being pointed out is that there are a lot of people who are being treated by force and against their wishes. Do we need more people in mental health treatment who don’t want to be treated? If so, you or your neighbor could be next. Is it not “stigmatizing” to force treatment on people who don’t want, for whatever reason, to be treated?

I see a big danger in using “stigma” to sell “mental illness”. I think this is precisely what is going on today. The numbers of people being fed, clothed, and sheltered by the taxpayers due to a “mental illness” label is increasing by leaps and bounds. Sooner or later, given the kind of growth that is taking place in the field, this burden is going to become too great for the state to carry. Once that point is reached, it will have become too late not to do something about the problem.

Recovery takes place where people leave the mental health system. They leave the mental health system precisely because they have recovered their mental health. Where people don’t leave the mental health system, the mental health system could be said to be ‘broken’. The idea is to get more people leaving the mental health system, and fewer people entering it. When you get fewer people entering the mental health system, you are being preventative. When you get more people entering the mental health system, you are being causative. I’d say it’s time to take a good long hard and honest look at what we’re doing.