It's Beginning to Look A Lot Like Fun*Run Time

It's ALREADY that time of year again: The ADAPT Fun*Run for Disability Rights is April 22nd 2012. Maryland's fundraising goal is $8,000 this year. Yes, that's right, $8,000

Donate $1! Donate $10! Donate $100! Donate $1,000! JUST DONATE so we can FREE OUR PEOPLE! I thank you very much for your support!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mental Illness: Illness or Chronic Condition?

Reflections from the AUCD Conference: Post 1

I was lucky to get the chance to do a poster presentation yesterday (along w/faculty) at the Association of University Centers on Disability's annual conference. I'VE GOT MY MOJO BACK NOW! I'm currently working on several blog posts in my head at the moment, all revolving around my reflections from attending the conference for a day. I learned A LOT in a few hours, met some interesting people, and even had the opportunity to inadvertently further educate the faculty I was with on disability etiquette and disability culture issues.

The conference had a screening of the documentary Including Samuel, with a Q&A with the director (Sam's dad) afterwards. The film was GREAT! I LOVED IT! It presented the issue of community inclusion from a disability rights standpoint, focusing on Samuel (obviously) who has CP, but also on a few others.

One thing in particular that stuck in my mind thoughwas a teen (early 20-something?) w/schizophrenia. They talked about the time she attempted suicide and then something was said about the issue of not if she would relapse, but rather when. Someone said something 'when she was sick' or 'when she gets sick again' or something, but the word SICK was there and it got burned in my head.

I have a "mental illness" I guess, but I'M NOT SICK! I don't have the flu. I'm the healthiest person I know! The wide use of the word 'sick' had been a pet-peeve of mine for years, starting from when my mom was diagnosed with cancer. She doesn't have the flu either. Cancer isn't anything at all like having the flu, although maybe I can concede that it has a closer correlation then schizophrenia.

When I google-imaged illness I got a picture of a boy wrapped in a blanket with a thermometer in his mouth and an ice-pack on his head (in an attempt to bring down his fever I guess). Does that give a clear picture of 'mental illness?'

At some point I adopted the term 'chronic condition' in relation to my mom. I've decided that CP is also a chronic condition, and bipolar is too I guess. Merriam-Webster says that chronic means "marked by long duration or frequent recurrence." Illness means "an unhealthy condition of body or mind." One definition of sick is "affected with disease or ill health." Another is "mentally or emotionally unsound or disordered." Health means "the condition of being sound in body, mind, or spirit."

There is a mental health crisis in the world. There is this gigantic stigma looming over everyone. People who could be helped tremendously by psychotherapy won't go. At best they may get their primary care physician to write a prescription that should be managed more closely by a psychiatrist. Efforts to reduce this stigma aren't going to work if we keep referring to a large group of conditions as mental illnesses. Is there something wrong with me because I'm bipolar? Because when you call it an illness and tell me I'm sick, that's what you imply. There is a lot to be said for the use and placement of positive and negative words. Look at the definitions above. Healthy equates to good. Good people are healthy. But someone who is plagued by a horrible illness is a bad person. Just look at how I framed that last sentence. Is anyone ever plagued by healthiness? Where in this are we helping people feel comfortable seeking out appropriate treatment? We're not. We're pushing them further and further away, simply by placing an emphasis on one word. Simply telling them they're ILL.

Also, by telling someone that they are sick it implies that they will get better. That isn't the case for a lot of people. Someone at the conference who is a big autism advocate mentioned how there are parents of autistic children that think that they will grow out of it. They think that autistic adults fighting for rights are faking it to try to get attention and take money away from their children. The same can be said for ADHD. Commercials for both pharmaceuticals and general awareness often use the term 'adult ADHD.' I have news for you: There isn't a difference. ADHD is the same in children and adults. Somehow people think it is better to lead people to believe that ADHD in adulthood is a completely different condition then to burst people's bubble that their child will grow out of it.

[picture discription: Van Gogh's Starry Night]

Chronic refers to something that plans on sticking around for a long time (if not forever). Schizophrenia, bipolar, ADHD, they don't just go away. Treatment is important to help someone to work with their diagnosis instead of against it, but treatment will not cure people who have these diagnoses. The word chronic has a much more neutral connotation then healthy, ill, and sick. To some a diagnosis of a chronic condition (mental or otherwise) might be the worst most dire thing that has ever happened in their life. To others it is a huge relief, a weight off their shoulders. Some may embrace their chronic condition. To them it may represent a badge of honor. It may become a huge source of pride. Others will always be ashamed and embarrassed of their condition. Labeling what they have as a chronic condition, as opposed to an illness, allows them to attach their own personal feelings to their diagnosis, instead of having feelings placed upon them. Let people feel good about having a few screws loose in their head. There's nothing wrong with that. Teach them that there are positives to their condition. There have been some very famous people who were never the perfect picture of mental health. Then maybe people won't be afraid to seek out treatment.


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