Monday, October 20, 2014

Mental Health Stigma on Social Networking

Over the last couple of years "status tag lists" have become popular, circulating around Facebook. Status tag lists are a type of mad gab game, where you use the Facebook tag feature with a friend's name (instead of a random word).  Most status tag lists are innocent fun & even some memes witty, however there are a few circulating out there which cross over into tasteless humor. I am specifically referring to those which innocently appear to be poking fun at "insanity" & "crazies" but in reality are perpetuating false and/or outdated stereotypes of mental health patients & contributing to stigma.

One such meme:


Status Tag Lists:
The first one begins like this:

You're in a mental hospital. Use the first six people on your friends list.
  • Person who drove you crazy:
  • Person who signed you in:
  • Your doctor:
  • Person in the corner drooling on themselves:
  • Your roommate:
  • Person who helps break you out:
The second one begins with:

"You and I end up in an Insane Asylum together. Using a sentence what would you say to me?"

With Facebook friends completing the sentence. An acquaintance posted this status today and received the following replies, which can be sorted into categories which unfortunately reflect the ignorance & stigma still in existence today towards mental health conditions:

Making Fun of Individuals with Serious Mental Health Disorder:
Nonsensical statements referring to & poking fun of "disorganized thinking" and "delusional thoughts" both  symptoms associated with schizophrenia, a serious mental health disorder.
"Peanut Butter cockroach" 
"Listen to the aardvarks... their secret lies in the carrot soup."
 "I'm a pretty princess lol"

To the individuals with these symptoms, the symptoms are no joke, they can be overwhelming and frightening at times, even to the point of disrupting their lives & relationships with others.

Making Light Of Mental Health Disorders and the Seriousness of Need for Hospitalization:
Treating Hospitalization as If It's a Vacation:
"I knew we would end up here but I'm glad we are together"
"did you bring the music"
"Welcome back!"
"I knew we'd eventually end up here; good thing this isn't my first rodeo!!!" 
"Can I have your red pill?
"Told you it was a short drive to crazy!"
"lets find sexy men to play house lol"
"Did u bring your camera"
"It was bound to happen, it's in our genes"
"So [name redacted] pranks finally made u crazy enough and you snapped huh?"
"Well, isn't this some CRAZY sh*t?"
"I know you should be here, but why am I here!"
"Do you like strawberry or grape jelly?"
"To hell with that diet...lets eat!"
"This is a vacation"

A
lthough my experience on an inpatient unit wasn't bad, it's hardly a vacation, you have little freedom & are on a structured schedule...plus hospital food, need I say more?

Making Fun Of Individuals with Mental Disability

"dont lick that window anymore?"

This derived from the slang "window licker" which originates from focusing on and stereotyping one particular behavior of some individuals with intellectual/mental disability and is considered as offensive as calling someone "retarded" You'd find it pretty offensive if someone referred to your brother or sister as "retarded" wouldn't you? Then don't do it to others. Treat others as you'd want to be treated.

References to Escape:
"Let's get out of here"
"How are we escaping?"

I think this refers back to a sordid time in mental health history when doctors struggled to understand the cause of and treat serious mental disorders such as psychosis, schizophrenia, depression, and anxiety disorders as well as developmental disabilities and therefore attempted a variety of treatments and used restraints which would be considered cruel and inhumane by modern standards (sources 1 and 2). This along with mixed with Hollywood movie portrayals such as those in One Flew Over the Coo-coo's Nest are what forms this colloquialism and negative attitude. Mental health treatment and care has improved dramatically (in countries such as the U.S. and Canada) and while mental health facilities are no fun place to be, many patients seek care voluntarily for the sake of their health. The issue of patients prematurely leaving both voluntary and involuntary treatment is becoming an issue due to the influence of the anti-psychiatry movement in the U.S. and abroad (source).

 Crime & Mischief:
"I told you badddddddd idea ." 
"I should have known not to listen listen to you!!"
"Look what you got us into now"

Another misconception. Nope, sorry hi-jinks aren't going to get you an involuntary stay in a mental health facility. In some serious crimes, where a criminal has a serious mental illness or developmental disability, the court may issue a decree of not guilty due to mental incompetence/mental defect wherein the person would be sentenced to inpatient treatment in a state psychiatric hospital or segregated area of prison rather than the traditional prison sentence, however this is usually the exception not the rule.

Talk About Straightjackets:
 "This new coat is so comfy. Lol"

The negative connotations of the straitjacket as an instrument of torture come from the earlier Victorian era of medicine. Physical restraint was then extensively used both as treatment for mental illness and as a means of pacifying patients in understaffed asylums. Wearing an institutional straitjacket for long periods of time can be quite painful. Blood tends to pool in the elbows, where swelling may then occur. The hands may become numb from lack of proper circulation, and due to bone and muscle stiffness the upper arms and shoulders may experience excruciating pain." (source) Not so funny anymore, is it? 

Talk About Psychiatric Medications:
'we'd probably be drugged so probably something like this "fyhblohdsfhnnl" '

You may be thinking about TV and movie portrayals of out of control patients being given knock-out shots and of patients sitting in chairs on a ward semi-conscious and drooling. Although highly sensationalized in TV & movies, prior to the 1960s, there were limited medications available to serious mental health disorders and of those which were available, they tended to have high rates of side effects such as sleepiness. However, since then, dozens of newer and better medications which are effective, have been developed, with fewer side effects. Still, yes sometimes those experiencing mania or psychosis need those older sedatives or anti-pscyhotics to help even out their moods and many of these often times cause a person to feel constantly sleepy, "out of it," and to have a dry mouth. Still, weighed against alternative of serious symptoms of their disease, these medications, when taken properly can  change the lives of people with mental health concerns for the better and may make other kinds of treatment more effective.

Although mentioned in fun, such humor is hurtful & contributes towards stigma for individuals w/ mental illness & their families.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Refuting the Pro-Choice "Forced Gestation" Argument & Additional Thoughts

I recently read a well thought-out secular pro-life article in response to the pro-choice "forced gestation" argument which can be summed up as saying: opposition to & restriction of abortion is akin to forcing women to continue pregnancies they don't want/forcing women to birth children they don't want & in the more extreme pro-choice viewpoint: akin to treating women as nothing more than brood mares. Haven't heard this argument? Well then you haven't met the likes of the mainstream online pro-choice community over at RH Reality Check. But I digress, the secular pro-life article I'm referring to can be read here: http://liveactionnews.org/the-pro-choice-myth-of-forced-pregnancy/

I thoroughly agree with the premise of this article & the inherently flawed logic in the pro-choice "forced gestation" argument. In addition, to argue that women are inherently unequal due to our biology & unable to fully participate in society unless we deny our femininity & alter our biology (by chemically sterilizing ourselves or aborting our off-spring) in order to gain equality is to treat women as inherently second class citizens & seems to fly in the face of what our feminist fore mothers believed. Rather women should be truly valued for our traits as individuals with intrinsic value, not who we have to become to be valued or accepted as equal (& this also could be said of sexual orientation, skin color, appearance, economic status, cultural background, or religious beliefs).

Friday, March 21, 2014

Spreading Awareness About Down Syndrome

Rachael's Note: March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day (named for Trisomy 21, the condition which causes Down Syndrome). The diagnosis of Down syndrome often strikes fear and dread in an expectant mother's and father's heart. The Down syndrome diagnosis often brings forth images of mentally handicapped individuals unable to take care for themselves and partake in life in any real way, and the need to care for their child for the rest of their life. Also, many people still view Down Syndrome as "terminal illness" like cancer or heart disease, and the individuals with this condition "defective" or "broken." These and other misconceptions about Down syndrome are often based on worse-case scenarios, misperceptions, sterotypes, and ignorance, and further perpetuate these fears. I have been working in direct care for 7 years and have met and worked with individuals with a variety of developmental disabilities. Today, I will be sharing information, based on my own knowledge/experience as well as from professional/parent resources, to debunk many of the misperceptions and stereotypes about Down Syndrome. Down Syndrome it is a developmental disability. Down syndrome is a genetic condition that causes delays in physical and intellectual development. While there is no cure for Down syndrome, there are many treatments available for the problems associated with Down syndrome. Approximately 40% of the children have congenital heart defects. Some of the heart conditions require surgery immediately after birth/in early childhood, while others only require careful monitoring. Children with Down syndrome have a higher incidence of infection, respiratory, vision and hearing problems as well as thyroid and other medical conditions. However, with appropriate medical care most children and adults with Down syndrome can lead healthy lives. The average life expectancy of individuals with Down syndrome is 55 years, with many living into their sixties and seventies. Unfortunately, for individuals with Down Syndrome, there is a higher chance of developing dementia and Alzheimer's, however this doesn't mean every individual will develop it.

Also, most people with Down syndrome have only mild to moderate mental retardation. More important than IQ scores is the fact that all individuals with Down syndrome are capable of learning. Most children with Down syndrome in the United States are “mainstreamed” into regular schools. They attend regular classes for some subjects and attend special classes for other subjects and continue to earn a certificate of completion or graduate from high school. A large percentage of adults with Down syndrome live semi-independently in supported living homes and assisted living facilities. Adults with Down syndrome often hold jobs and have romantic relationships. Some high school graduates with Down syndrome participate in post-secondary education. Many adults with Down syndrome are capable of working in the community, but some require a more structured environment, such as a supervised workshop.

It's important to remember that individuals with Down Syndrome are people too. They enjoy various hobbies and activities and have individual likes and dislikes like you and I. Also, people with Down syndrome experience a full range of emotions such as sadness, anger and happiness & they respond to positive expressions of friendship and they are hurt and upset by inconsiderate behavior, just like everyone else.

Disability rights organizations, care providers, and individuals and their families are seeking to educate the public and bring about awareness about Down Syndrome so that better treatments can be found, to lend to more education and understanding of the condition, and bring about awareness.

For more information on Down Syndrome and to listen to families and individuals with Down Syndrome share their insight and experiences, please visit:

Room for More: World Down Syndrome Day

CDAC
Offers scientific research, information, education, and suuport to parents and families of children with Down Syndrome as well as awareness and education for the medical professionals and the general public. Written by parents of a child with Down Syndrome.

National Down Syndrome Society Offers advocacy, outreach, education, and support and resources for families, parents, and medical professionals. Helpline: 1-800-221-4602

SOFT
Support Organization for Families of Trisomy, a nonprofit volunteer organization offering support for parents who have had or are expecting a child with a chromosome disorder and education to families and professionals interested in the care of these children.

Recommended Down Syndrome Sites on the Internet
Compiled by Len Leshin, M.D.

Hidden Treasures: The Trisomy 21 Journey
Parents from all around the world share their stories.

Video: Dreams
Dreams features children and adults who have Down syndrome talking about their dreams and what they're proud of in their lives. This fun and inspirational video made by Scott and Julia Elliott celebrates the work of the National Down Syndrome Society and the larger Down syndrome community.

Monday, March 10, 2014

My Letter to Abortion Providers

Today, March 10th is National Abortion Provider Appreciation Day. Here are my thoughts in a letter to abortion providers (doctors, nurses, & clinic staff).

Dear abortion providers,
Although you ment well & were trying to help, there are many women who've been hurt by their abortion(s) in addition to those who've benefited.
http://silentnomoreawareness.org
http://afterabortion.com
As you may know, an abortion is often a short-term fix to long-term problem(s) such as poverty, homelessness, & limited education. Please re-consider your work & let's work together to find other ways to better address these issues & work together to strengthen & empower women. 
Sincerely,
A pro-life feminist


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