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those which innocently appear to be poking fun at "insanity" & "crazies" but in reality are perpetuating false and/or outdated stereotypes of mental health patients & contributing to stigma.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"

lthough my experiences on an inpatient unit weren't bad, it's hardly a vacation, you have little freedom & are on a structured 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.  Legally, there are typically two ways it can happen: 
1.) The treatment is court-ordered. (For example, if the person is brought into the legal system, and a judge decides a psychiatric treatment center is more appropriate than jail.) 
 2) The treatment is imposed by a mental health professional when a patient is deemed a “serious risk of physical harm to themselves or others in the near future.” In both scenarios, it is supposed to be considered a “last resort.”

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, as a last resort when other newer drugs have been tried & are ineffective. 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.

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