“I love the way my schizophrenics dress”.
I really didn’t know how to respond. The speaker, a community mental health worker I’d known for years, is a wonderful person. I don’t think she even heard how just plain wrong her words were.
I’ve thought a lot about how I might’ve turned this into a ‘teachable moment’. I wish I’d had a copy of Liz Sayce’s From Psychiatric Patient to Citizen: Overcoming Discrimination and Social Exclusion to give her. In it Sayce contrasts different paradigms through which we might see individuals struggling with major mental illness, comparing the brain disease model with the disability inclusion model (and a couple of others).
In the 2003 report Reducing Stigma and Discrimination: What Works? (click to view pdf) Peter Byrne writes:
“Disability inclusion … is a call to address discrimination in every arena and promote the rights of people with mental health problems. The disability inclusion model promotes the concept of social inclusion on civil rights grounds and not just paternalistic ‘help’.”
The physical disabilities movement has transformed the way we view the person and the ‘problem’. I ask trainees “Can someone in a wheelchair go to med school?” and “what should happen if there’s no ramp?” They look at me as if I’m from Pluto, and respond that of course the individual could be a physician and of course the medical school is responsible for putting in a ramp. Students might even remind me of:
Dr. Earl Wynards, blind anaesthetist
Dr. Jim Post, quadriplegic internist
Dr. Helen Brooke Taussig, deaf pediatric cardiologist and first woman to become president of the American Heart Association
That we, as a community, own some of the responsibility for a person with a physical disability to be fully part of society is wonderful and should never be taken for granted. Now we have to extend some of this to persons with serious and persistent mental illnesses.
If you’re doing ACT work consider tracking down and reading Liz Sayce’s book. Well worth it.
I look forward to a time when the spellchecker I use to write this blog no longer has the word ‘schizophrenic’ in its lexicon.