A few weeks ago, I wrote about  how I have recently been reminded of Thomas Szasz and my concern that his work helped to promote the stigma of mental illness for a generation. I have realized just today that I am wrong: the myth that mental illness is a myth is still coming between people with mental illnesses and the diagnosis and treatment that could relieve their symptoms or save their lives.

Irwin Elman, the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth in Ontario, tweeted a video yesterday evening that called psychiatric illnesses “bogus” and suggested that Psychiatrists and the teams we work with are “labeling” children and youth. This is the link to the video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wv49RFo1ckQ&feature=youtu.be

Watch it. It’s very powerful and very convincing and very dangerous.

If you were a young woman with Bipolar Disorder and you watched this video, you might very well decide that the medication your doctor so thoughtfully prescribes and monitors was unnecessary. Let’s say that, because of this, you decided to stop taking your medication. Your mood might not change for days or weeks, even months maybe. One day, however, there’s a good chance (a 30-80% percent chance, approximately, depending on the study you review) that you might stop sleeping, that your thoughts would begin to race and that it would be difficult to realize that your idea that you must write your novel within the next 3 days or the world will end is not completely realistic or accurate. Your parents might beg you to go to the doctor and you would be contemptible of their concern, since they “don’t realize” how the medication “holds you back”. But your thoughts are racing so quickly that you cannot write them down in time – you won’t finish the novel and the world WILL end. You begin to think, “What is the point of living?” Your mood changes suddenly: you are no longer elated, you are in a deep depression and suicidal.

Or, let’s say, like the young man in the video, you have Oppositional Defiant Disorder. The young man in the video rips off his sticker to reveal the word: Leader. But if, like the diagnosis Oppositional Defiant Disorder implies, you have difficulty following rules or respecting other’s rights, would you not want to change that? Would you not be so tired of being isolated and ostracized because no one likes or trusts you that you might want help to change?

This video does not offer hope. It judges those who treat mental illness, and by association those with mental illness, as dishonest or malicious. Those of us who diagnose and treat mental illness have studied as much, know as much and care as much as every other health care professional. Those who suffer from mental illness are just as unwell and deserving of care and compassion as those who suffer from diabetes or cancer. A diagnosis is not a “label” and an illness is not a moral judgment. Don’t let a public relations exercise stop you from getting help.

If you want to read more about this, here is an article that does a good job of comparing physical with mental illness: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sarah-robertson/how-mental-health-conditions-are-dismissed_b_3739453.html

If you’ve seen any good articles or videos that remind people to get help in a positive way, let me know. If you’ve written a good article or essay, send me the link so we can all see it. It’s time to stop the stigma!

2 thoughts on “Follow-Up on the “Myth” of Mental Illness

  1. Andrew Fenus says:

    Good for you, Gail!

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