You Don't Have To Be Mad To Work Here...
If I wrote the rest of my piece in the same vein, I would be inundated with attacks — how could I be so unfair and harsh about people who’ve been unlucky to fall ill? I would be punished and asked to apologise, and rightly so.
So why is it OK for people to have these beliefs about mental illness? The usual description of someone sectioned under the Mental Health Act is that the person is violent, dangerous and prone to cruelty.
Like every other stereotype, it is damaging to the subject and the people around them, in this case, subjects of the stereotype may be unwilling to seek help from their friends, family and even their own GP because they are afraid of being stigmatised and/or ridiculed.
Even strangers will judge and ridicule a sectioned member of society. I am currently employed as a support worker in a low secure psychiatric hospital, and one of my duties is to take people into the community (known as section 17 leave). Whilst taking our clients out on leave, my colleagues and I make ourselves look as unlike ‘staff’ as possible to spare the client the embarrassment that comes with being identified as a ‘nutter’ by strangers.
One incident that angered me was while out on a section 17 leave to a local supermarket. The client I was with had numerous scars on both her arms from episodes of self harm. Admittedly, there are a lot of scars and they aren’t small, but this does not excuse the behaviour of a lady who, upon sighting the scars, gave our client a look of deep disgust and loathing, and promptly moved her young daughter away from us as quickly as was possible.
The client I was escorting was very upset at this reaction and asked if we could return to the unit. If I told this incident with a cancer sufferer with no hair due to chemotherapy instead of a psychiatric patient with self harm scars more people would be outraged. This is not fair.
The point of this rant is that I’m amazed at the reactions of some of the people who I know who are horrified at the idea of me working in a secure setting. When I told my parents about my job when I first started, their reaction was that I would constantly be under attack from clients — because of course all psychiatric patients are violent, didn’t you know?
Yes I have been assaulted, but I’d like to see the people who victimise the mentally ill cope with the frustration of being locked up, away from your family because you fell ill, or to fight the constant and terrible voices that some patients experience, demanding that they hurt themselves and others. I have one client that said she harms herself because she doesn’t want to hurt the staff. How awful is it that that is in her life?
We don’t hold harmful prejudices about asthmatics or diabetics when they become ill, but we think that those with borderline personality disorder are violent. We don’t move away from the cancer patient on the bus, but we would if the schizophrenic who lived down your street sat down.
All of the clients that I have met and worked with are just like you and me. Yes some of them have characteristics that aren’t favourable, but that is true of the whole population. Next time you hear someone abusing those who are mentally ill, imagine how you’d react if they were abusing someone who was physically ill, and if your reaction would differ and why.