Brisbane Conference on Schizophrenia/mental illnesses
People diagnosed with mental illness should not accept language which reduces them from being human to "being a disease", a conference was told here. Dr Pat Deegan, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager and now holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, said people with a mental illness deserved to maintain their humanity. "I do not say, 'I am a schizophrenic', I say, 'I am Pat,'" she told applauding delegates at the sixth Annual Mental Health Services Conference of Australia and New Zealand.
Dr Deegan, from Lawrence, Massachusetts, said people with disabilities were now part of a worldwide movement demanding freedom from discrimination and the stigma of labels. "I think it's reasonable to say 'people with mental illness' rather than 'the mentally ill', as if we were a herd of cattle," she told AAP.
"Like any oppressed group of people -- and I believe we are oppressed -- we do not like being treated like objects. "I think the notion of being politically correct has been distorted, and I say it is important that people in Australia, and in America, strive to become more politically correct. "We should use people-first language." After all, Dr Deegan said, no-one says, "He is a cancer," they say, "He has cancer." Mentalism would become as socially repugnant as sexism or racism, she said. Dr Deegan, who describes herself as a survivor of mental health services, works for the US National Empowerment Centre as a recovery consultant.
"People with mental illness have made enormous strides by joining with other groups of people with disabilities to fight for basic social justice and non-discrimination," she said. "We (disabled people) are 43 million strong in the US and that's a large voting bloc." The success of the movement is reflected in the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act which ensures equal opportunity in work based on skills and makes it illegal to ask someone in a job interview if they have a disability.
Dr Deegan said societies needed to create more nurturing environments that allowed people with mental illness to grow and develop their abilities. "If you plant a seed in the desert and it fails to grow, do we ask what is wrong with the seed?" she said.
"We have to look at how we can create a humanised environment." One-half to two-thirds of people labelled schizophrenic improved significantly or recovered completely, she said. "We do not get 'rehabilitated' like a car gets tuned up," she said. Dr Deegan deplored the way some health professionals spoke about clients. Saying things like: "We are going to get our frontline staff into the field to develop strategies for a target population" was the language of war, she said.
Dr Deegan fights back with her own descriptive phrases: people with mental illness should have the basic human right to make stupid decisions about their lives, just like "chronically normal" people. "If you've caught the tabloids recently you'll have seen that Elizabeth Taylor -- who's a chronically normal movie star -- recently announced her divorce from Larry Fortensky, husband number eight. "Now if I, as someone diagnosed with a mental illness, went to my case planner and said I was getting married for the ninth time, what would he say?
"I think we need to distinguish between people making dumb decisions
and those really at risk." People with mental illness demanded the
dignity of risk and the right to failure, she said.
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