Mental Illness, Political Correctness and Political Cartoons

By Marvin Ross

An unusual connection of topics in the headline, I admit, but let me explain. We live in an era of political correctness gone mad to the point that I’ve been lambasted in the past for saying schizophrenic rather than a person with schizophrenia. I actually did a column years ago entitled something like sticks and stones….. where I discussed the silliness of terminology and the editor got letters of complaint.

Years ago, Dr Sally Satel wrote a book called PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine I loved that book and wish I could remember who I loaned it to. I am a big fan of hers for many reasons and one is her sensible attitude to treatment and committal for those with serious mental illness.

Political Correctness just turned up in Ontario when a political cartoonist published a bang on cartoon of Ontario cabinet minister Lisa MacLeod. The cartoonist in this case was Michael De Addar whose recent Trump cartoon went viral and he was fired from his freelance gig. If you visit the link above, you will see the Trump cartoon that got him fired.

In that link, De Adder describes the role of a political cartoonist and the top role is sarcasm or, as the Brits say, to take the piss out of people. That is what he does and political cartoonists have always done that well.

After being fired, he was picked up by the Toronto Star which has a long history of brilliant political cartoonists. His first cartoon for them got him in trouble again for making fun of the mentally ill but called mental health issues because to call someone mentally ill is not politically correct.

Some background. Most people are familiar with the late Rob Ford who became mayor of Toronto as his antics with drugs made headlines around the world. His big brother Doug desperately wanted to follow him as mayor but he was trounced. He managed to become leader of the Ontario Conservative Party when they turfed their leader and entered the election in 2018 when the incumbents had been in office for so long that their approval rating was rock bottom.

Doug won with no platform and immediately began cutting services for everyone. His minister, Lisa MacLeod, tried to reform the treatment programs for the autistic (persons with autism) and their families and was greeted with jeers, disdain, and numerous protests. The governments’ popularity fell to unprecedented levels within a year (60% surveyed reported July 15 that they felt the government was corrupt) so that in desperation, Doug demoted most of his cabinet and had them replaced.

The lady who messed up the autism file is now the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and she went to see the Rolling Stones at their recent concert in Ontario. While there, she spotted Eugene Melnyk, the owner of the Ottawa Senators hockey team (and Ms MacLeod comes from Ottawa). She went up to him and said:

 “Do you know who I am?” and, “I am your minister and you’re a f—ing piece of s—t and you’re a f—ing loser’.”

She later apologized on twitter but De Adar’s cartoon showed her in a straight jacket being led away by two men in white coats.

None of this upsets me as someone with mental illness in the family and who has written and advocated for years for better treatment. It did upset many who felt that the cartoon promoted stigma for the mentally ill and made it more difficult for people to get help.

Camille Quenneville, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, stated so well in a letter to the editor published in the Star in protest of the de Adder cartoon:

“The cartoon depicting the Hon. Lisa MacLeod in a straitjacket is heartbreaking and demoralizing for all of those suffering, and the people supporting them. I cannot imagine the Star printing a cartoon maligning a cancer patient.”

The Star’s public editor in the link above, agreed. It seems that some people knew that Ms MacLeod had once mentioned that she had problems with depression and anxiety and so this was an unfair attack on her and on the mentally ill.

What is unfair is the lack of treatment services for those with serious mental illness. That upsets me. Not an attack on a politician who was caught trying to throw her weight around and invoke her self believed power over others. The fact that she has had an issue with depression in the past is no excuse to cut her some slack.

And suggesting she be carted off in a straight jacket is simply the sarcasm of a political cartoonist popping the balloon of a self important politico.

Sarcasm from the Oxford English Dictionary is “The use of irony to mock or convey contempt.” The target of that contempt was a politician and not those with mental illness.

If people want to become incensed about our attitudes to mental illness, they should start to demand to know why so many are untreated, homeless and/or in jail. That is the obscenity!

6 thoughts on “Mental Illness, Political Correctness and Political Cartoons

  1. “If people want to become incensed about our attitudes to mental illness, they should start to demand to know why so many are untreated, homeless and/or in jail. That is the obscenity!”


    Liked by 2 people

  2. Marvin,

    Those who have done and continue to do a DRUM ROLL on stigma and get a lot of “glory” for doing so; would have done a much better service for those unlucky folks who have a serious mental illness , ihad they put their efforts into advocating for more appropriate and more available treatment.

    I have many stories about what people have said ( over thirty years) on political correctness by people who have Schizophrenia or Manic Depression. Many despise euphemisms . One of my friends with the former once said to me . ” Don’t let anyone tell me that my condition is not a medical illness. It has deprived me of my career and having a family . ” This was someone who was wise well educated and very gracious, He was from a good family and had many close friends, but having children was not on the cards. My friend was always upset by the fact that so many with major psychosis were left without stabilizing treatment.

    Being sensitive , empathetic and understanding is always good to be, but deliberately masking certain truths about the nature of these illnesses is perpetuating many problems. The truth will surely stand a better chance of getting proper medical care for ill people. . The so called “Recovery Movement” has impeded and squeezed a lot of essential services. “Make-work projects” are not a substitute for essential care.

    Truth, and compassion through understanding , would be a far far better thing than some of the rubbish that is put about.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I for one still appreciate plain talk, and satire. A cartoonist has a tough job creating an image to immediately convey a thought. A strait jacket may not be flattering, but it certainly communicates disordered thought visually. It’s okay if some find it offensive. It’s not okay to censor it. Some people are making a career out of taking offense and playing the victim, or insisting on replacing clear descriptions with euphemisms or worse, seeking to censor free speech to the point of threatening people’s careers. Mentally retarded now has to be “Mentally challenged” or having a “Dual Diagnosis” (although Dual Diagnosis may mean someone with a mental illness AND mental retardation OR drug addiction — you figure it out). Mailman has become “Letter Carrier”. Madam Chairman is “Chair Person”. The plural pronoun “their” has morphed into a singular descriptor for someone with ambiguous gender identity. Somehow a community of homosexual people “Lesbian-Gay” has expanded to an alphabet soup of sexual minorities in letter form LBGT etc. The latest case I have encountered is a Safe Injection Site being called a “Safe Consumption Centre”, and no, this is not a tuberculosis sanitorium. Further, the venomous minority critics are not content to distort or censor speech, but now professionals are having their jobs threatened eg the cartoonist whose work was dropped, an IT worker at Hamilton City Hall is being investigated because he allegedly belonged to a white supremacist group, controversial guest speakers at universities being cancelled due to student pressure/ demonstrations. Even Munk debates are coming under fire. The censorship of free speech does not mean the censors are more moral than the rest of us. It means they feel they can overbearingly impose their will on others. Censorship does not change or extinguish sentiments but rather creates euphemistic codes for expression. For example, anti-Semites take shelter in criticizing the banking system or Israel. Homophobes complain about “special interest groups” and stand for “family values”. Leftist language Nazis take the high ground and claim they know best what to feel and what to say and how to say it. To those who cry the blues over words, to those who would compromise our legal right to clear communication and our right to hear the forthright views of others, I say this: “Free speech. It shall prevail.”


  4. To reduce the stigma of mental illness one must become aware of and use less stigmatizing language. People dont feel safe talking about their illness when they know all it is associated with… straight jackets, mean words like crazy, stupid, retarded, lazy, and being identified as their illness ie schizophrenic rather then person with schizophrenia. We would never identify someone as Cancer or Parkinsons so why do we do this with mental illness. To gain more money and supports we first must reduce the stigma…if our politicians have stigma why would they want to sulpport the world of mental health?


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