Problem with Oppression & Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

Problem with Oppression & Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

The problem is not simply the presence of a mental illness in an individual’s life; rather, it is how society responses to the individual’s different view of living and functioning in the world.

How ‘healthy’, ‘normal’, and ‘deficientcy’ is defined ,and perpetuated, in society greatly impacts an individual’s perception of themselves, their interactions with others, and how the societal structures assist or inhibit the person’s process of recovery.

Social Workers.. Should Not, what?

Social Workers.. Should Not, what?

This quote hits the core of social work in a minimal way, in my opinion. As the governmental shutdown continues and the number of vulnerable individuals increase, (due to the amount of poverty, oppression, and covert discrimination that is embedded within our society’s systematic functioning), we, as social workers, become even more critical in providing empowerment and hope to those we interact with daily. However, changing peoples’ lives also occurs by advocating for individuals on a community and macro level. The part of this quote that I disagree with is, “When we are no LONGER able to change a situation…”. As social workers, we CAN change situations by effectively touching the lives of our clients and advocating for, and with, our clients at a communal and legislative level. Social workers SHOULD NOT allow our society’s current financial and political situation impinge our ability to remain effective. Social workers SHOULD NOT accept the current situations of their clients or the system that perpetuates a person’s unfortunate circumstances. We, social workers, have the skills and capability to change not only the lives of our clients, but also remain influential in the communities and greater environments of our clients.

In an alternate universe…

As I brain stormed ideas for this blog entry, a Twilight Zone episode continued to consume my thoughts:

        A woman wakes up in the hospital with her face bandaged. The nurse (whose face you don’t see) unwraps the bandages and screams. The nurse calls the doctor into the patient’s room. The doctor (whose face the audience also doesn’t see) states that the woman can not be healed or fixed. Next, the camera shows the audience the woman’s face. She is beautiful with flawless skin and a glowing complexion. The doctor then tells the nurse to call Them to pick p athe patient und take her away. After commercial break, the door to the patient’s hospital room opens and a man (that looks like Barbie’s Ken) walks into the room. He tells the woman patient, “Hello. I am bringing you to a land where people like us can be together and live in peace”. The patient willingly goes with this stranger without question. The camera then shows the audience the doctor’s and nurses’ faces: pig-like with noses that look like snouts. Although this Twilight Zone episode addresses the subjectivity of beauty and the ways in which society upholds the criteria for what is perceived as beautiful or not, this episode can relate to how mental illness is currently understood and perceived.

What if in an alternate universe, having a mental illness diagnosis was seen as a glamorous entity. In this alternate universe, people rush to psychiatrists, therapists, and clinics to be assessed for a mental illness. Having a mental illness diagnosis of depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia (to name a few) is normalized and accepted as a label that belongs to the majority. The individuals without a mental illness diagnosis are perceived as marginalized, lacking super-human capabilities, or as abnormal.

Would stigma still exist in this alternate universe? I believe yes, but in a different way than stigma exists in our society. Stigma would be internalized by those without a diagnosis, instead of by those who have one.

Would having a diagnosis provide the individual with access to special or desired resources? Probably so. Although in our current society, resources are provided to people with a mental illness diagnosis, many factors continue to interfere with the individual’s ability to actually have access to them. Some factors, to name a few, are healthcare (insurance or lack thereof), transportation, locations where services are provided, price & quality of such services, and shame/embarrassment that is experienced by many when acknowledging to family and friends that they have been diagnosed or exhibit the symptoms that warrant a diagnosis.

Would people be accused of ‘faking’ symptoms or behaviors in order to receive such a diagnosis in this alternate universe? Probably so. In any society where there is a created stratification based upon any innate (physical, biological) or socially constructed characteristics (racial, socioeconomic, gender, occupational), accusations of fraud will more than likely exist.

Even though our current society has a large prevalence of mental illness, individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are portrayed by the media (and from society’s choice in terminology) as ‘crazy’ or ‘deviant’. But in actuality, many are misunderstood and are at times, seen as having a characteristic fault.

We do not live in the alternate universe that I have described above. No, we do not. However, we can live in a society where we do not place judgement on others when life becomes difficult. We can change our current society into one that encourages sharing our struggles and challenges in order to strengthen each one of us. We can, together.