The myth of mental health stigma – Setting the scene and self respect

This is a hard set of postings for me to write because I know it will upset a lot of readers. I am talking about the mental health stigma and will argue that it does not help those who suffer from mental problems to be looking for and so seeing “discrimination” and “stigma” everywhere. And further it is not mental health stigma that we see and mental health discrimination as most of us would understand it, but the result of extreme ignorance of what mental problems are all about.  Note that I do not use the term, mental illness.  And this ignorance can be shared out in pretty well equally large portions to pretty well everyone – sufferers, users of the system, carers, the mental health industry (of Big Pharma, the psychiatric profession, academics by the bucket load, NHS administrators), politicians, the media and so inevitably, the man and woman in the street.

My main observation is my great surprise at the uncritically accepted and pervasive assumption that mental health stigma is an unfortunate fact of life.  I do realise why this surprise is manifesting as before beginning the writing of this blog and the occasional tweeting I am now enjoying, I really did live a very sheltered life (professionally speaking). I really did. And so not only did I not come across stigma but did not really appreciate how much its existence or perceived existence animates so many.

The sheltered life I led partly reflects my situation.  I have MS which means my mobility and opportunity to move beyond a very close orbit of my house is very limited.  Necessarily therefore my therapy practice, based on the Human Givens is private (unconnected to the NHS for example), though I did work at a local secondary school a few years ago (when my mobility allowed it) and a handful of GPs do refer to me.  The big difference is that all my clients pay me – and this is a principle that I learnt is a pretty well essential requirement for worthwhile therapy. Thus in my early practising years (2004/05) I did offer “free” therapy, but it was abused shamelessly – appointments were missed, conditions attached and so on – such that very little benefit was gained by anybody. So I now charge – though for clients with limited means, the session fee will be low. But the principle is clear.  By paying, all my clients have control over the therapy and they are not victims or supplicants and can choose to discontinue at any time.  The therapeutic relationship is set from the start and it is one that will maximise the chances of success.

So, I work with my clients with no hint of disrespect or supplication but as equals.  Mental health stigma plays no part. Yes I present as having expertise and experience that my clients believe they need (and do need in most cases).  But then we look for similar expertise when we book a plumber to fix our boiler. I doubt that many of us feel morally or practically inferior to our plumber.  And neither do my clients to me.

The importance of this cannot be overstated – in terms of how recovery can take place.  For healing will come at the end of the day from the patient. It will be their resources, suitably healed or moderated – in the service of getting a life that works that will be the basis for their recovery. Thus, anything that you do to enhance self respect and control helps healing and anything you do that damages or limits self respect and control impacts negatively on the potential for recovery.

That is why I worry that to look for mental health stigma under every bush and stone could be the last thing that one should do.

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