By Dr David Laing Dawson
Marvin is right about the limitations of the anti-stigma endeavours. In fact I would add that much of the movement downplays the seriousness of some mental illness, and creates a mush of euphemisms. Historically (my experience in the 60’s) the word cancer was not used in hospitals, at least not outside the Doctors’ lounge, the seminar room and the cafeteria. Real progress did not occur until the word Cancer became acceptable, with acknowledgement of the suffering and death it caused. Terry Fox did not run across Canada to raise awareness and money for Bone Health.
Leprosy, the very disease that gave us the term leper, did not lose its stigma when it was renamed Hansen’s Disease, but when it became both understood and medically treatable.
One day we may be able to divide Schizophrenia into several specific forms, each linked to specific genes, as we can now do with several types of cancer, but for now lets just accept the name schizophrenia and use the effective treatments we have. But let’s not confuse this illness with work stress or remorse or insecurity.
And let’s accept that physicians and physician specialists comprise the only professional group that can actually employ a methodology and tools to investigate, diagnose, and treat serious mental illness, with the assistance of several other kinds of “mental health professionals”. I state this bluntly because the anti-stigma movements usually refer to “mental health professionals” as a somehow unified body of equally qualified and knowledgeable helpers. As I think about this more I wonder if the anti-stigma movement is further stigmatizing mental illness and by extension psychiatry by using such terms as mental health and mental health professionals, making it, I’m sure, far more acceptable to be seeing a counselor for mental health than a psychiatrist for a mental illness. Which might be contributing, ultimately, through similar prejudices within the medical community, to the diminution of medical graduates entering psychiatry.
I know statistically people suffering from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence but it is also true that the most gruesome and apparently inexplicable of crimes making the headlines of our newspapers are usually committed by people suffering from severe and untreated mental illness. Emphasis here on the word ‘untreated’.