Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Concerns with Bel's Mental Health Campaign

This was written as a "concise" Facebook post. It's just long enough to be considered rambling but too short to be considered comprehensive. It was also written with practically no editing or re-writing. For all its faults, I'm happy to share it.
So I find it difficult to concisely express my concerns but I'll try. One, is all the issues that you've all already expressed. It's goodwill marketing and Bell gets credit for it. The other, more important, critique is that the campaign is really about reducing the stigma of mental "illness" which is constructed as a biological impairment. With regards to stigma, it's so much less threatening to say it like that then to say discrimination, which is what it really is and is defined as such in the Ontario Human Rights Code. As for "biological impairment" it does not recognize that a) there is a great deal of neuro-diversity and not everyone agrees that there is a problem that needs to be fixed. It's possible for people to be proud that they are different—often troublesome and weird, but not necessarily in need of fixing. b) it fails to acknowledge the social conditions create mental distress. Poor or inadequate housing. Low income. Lack of supports for children and seniors. Fixing all these social ills would make a huge difference in many people's mental statuses. c) finally, it doesn't complicate the social construction of "illness". Mental illness is, in particular, subject to the vagaries of social norms. Not that long ago, being lesbian or gay was diagnosable. There are still sex acts that are part of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Drapetomania was never in the DSM but was a diagnosis of the uncontrollable desire of slaves to escape their masters; and of course, the psychiatric imprisonments of political dissidents in the USSR, are well known. So so much of diagnosis has to do with social control of some kind. Sometimes, it's very overt like the USSR example, and sometimes it's more under the radar as in the case of diagnoses like Borderline Personality Disorder, which is often code for troublemaker and stigmatizes things like female promiscuity (men of course can't be promiscuous). Whew. I could keep going but lets leave it at that for now.

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