How Psychiatric Professionals Promote Stigma

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“The stigma suffered by people identified as experiencing psychiatric problems is often described as more disabling than the actual mental disorder,” writes retired psychologist Gary Sidley in a HubPages blog post. “Paradoxically, psychiatric professionals are, via their clinical and research practices, the most pernicious source of stigma for people suffering mental health problems.”

Sidley argues that “insisting that mental health problems are brain diseases” foments fear and prejudice in relation to people experiencing emotional difficulties, and he criticizes the “negative and discriminatory attitudes” that many psychiatric professionals perpetuate when they support laws that allow forced drugging.

Stigma and mental health problems: why psychiatric professionals are the main culprits (HubPages, September 8, 2014)

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14 COMMENTS

  1. Stigma is internal, and sabotaging. Developing a strong sense of Self heals stigma, and makes us impervious to the judgments and opinions of others, so we take different actions than we would were we to take on projected stigma. When we don’t identify with others’ judgments and stigma, we are different people, emotionally and creatively free.

    When projected outward, it creates a hologram, and ‘reality’ becomes filtered through duality, via fear, blame, and discrimination, complete lack of self-responsibility. It spreads when we gossip negatively about others, and even when we speak negatively about ourselves. These are all stigmatic projections/introjections.

    We’re so used to it, it can be hard to recognize in ourselves. We’re swimming in stigma and judgment, since we are so dualistic in perception–that is, indoctrinated in ‘us vs. them’ duality. Most communities I know of are stigmatizing, one way or another. It’s epidemic, and toxic, the core of social ills.

    Yes, psychiatry is inherently stigmatizing, as are all of its tentacles. I agree, this is the ‘illness’ that creates ‘permanent disability’–all illusion.

    • And how does that work when you go get medical care with a psych diagnosis in your file that you have been unable to hide thanks to medical electronic records and don’t get taken seriously? Go to another doctor you say? What if you are already medically compromised and don’t have the strength to go to a “million” doctors to find the one who will listen? Then what?

      My point is I agree it is good not internalize stigma. But not doing so doesn’t protect you against medical providers whose care you desperately need who continue to do it on a wide scale basis.

    • From what I’ve heard, there is no “stigma” attached to “mental health”. Unless the “mentally healthy” person happens to be a psychiatrist in the presence of critics, and the “stigma” attaches to his profession, there is no “stigma” attached to “mental health”.

      Ever heard the expression “trappings of success”? Suppose a person were to “recover” their “mental health”, wouldn’t this preclude the presence of the “stigma” that is the reverse side of the label? Suppose a person “recovered” his or her “mental health”, and suppose said person were trapped by success. That would do it, would it not? No “stigma” in success.

      The labeling process is “stigmatizing” in itself, and all “mental health” professionals are implicated in it. The most prejudicial people around, as far as I’ve observed, are mental health professionals. If they are not disbelieving in the ability of their clients, they are believing in the inability of their clients. Either way, one must go beyond the mental health system itself if one wants the “trappings of success”.

      Professionals fail their clients, and then project that failure onto their clients, and blame them. Clients get a bill of goods. Disrupted lives, lowered expectations, a circumscribed existence, and freedom from work “stress”, if not a mental health stoolie position. I’m saying the whole affair is just a bad dream that one is better off shaking off. There is no “stigma” attached to surviving psychiatry. The “stigma” attaches to not surviving. It is part and parcel of mental health treatment.

      • You’re too harsh on poor psychiatrists. Surely they cannot stigmatise people by simply telling everyone that they should understand that patient X here has a genetic disorder which renders him incapable of insight into his condition, potentially violent, delusional and never to fully recover. That can’t be causing any stigma, it’s just good medical practice.

      • AA, I feel that I understand your perspective because I went through this, too, being haunted by my file. I agree 100% with how Frank puts it, its part and parcel. It wasn’t medically where I was compromised, however, it was professionally. I made the error of turning to vocational rehabilitation for support, and ended up with an ‘employment file’ which was tarnished with textbook stigma, as I found out when I filed a grievance with the Civil Rights Office, so I requested it for legal purposes.

        While during the course of my thrill ride through the mental health system I had some legal success when I cried ‘foul,’ I also had grievances responded to with the basic message that “well, you see, you have this file and in it is says that you…” They would fill in the … with whatever was convenient to them. I had no idea that what I disclosed to ‘professionals’ was subject to such distortion and judgment, aka stigma. Learned the hard way, as so many of us have, it seems.

        Again, as Frank says, this is inherent in the mental health world. Even as I healed and became able to work again, my battles with the system continued because I could only go as far as their ceiling (based on their stigmatizing projections/inaccurate beliefs) would allow—that is, always under their thumb, selling their bill of goods. Control, control, control.

        Even going so far out into ‘professional advocacy,’ my voice was too radical and alternative, even though they liked my information about healing, since I obviously embodied it. They’d tell me they were on the same page as me, but it turned out that this claim was false, they were ‘of the system,’ and could not see it. That is where their funding comes from, and of course they’re not going to bite the hand that feeds them. They called themselves ‘advocates.’ For whom, I wondered?

        They would never, ever allow me to be anything but a ‘peer,’ even though I’ve been a clinician, and have been a counselor and teacher for years now, since I healed. I had also been a professional actor, did all sorts of things in the community, with no issue like this from anyone, ever.

        Reflecting back to their faces—and not at all angrily, but kind of with a sense of irony, with the purpose of giving them a client perspective for their own awakening–that I felt discriminated against and totally stigmatized only led them to become incredibly defensive and then it would turn into a barrage of demeaning insults and accusations. Suddenly, in their eyes, they became MY victim!

        I finally caught on that this is how they play the stigma and control game. It’s horrendous, and unconscionable to my mind, because no matter how far out you go in the mental health world, it ALWAYS amounts to who can overpower who, and the put-you-in-your-place stigma card is played every time the truth about the situation is spoken. Case closed. So many ways this is communicated, they have it down. That was totally my experience. It’s totally irresponsible, cruel, and I imagine it’s a blatant violation of ADA law—reasonable request does NOT get reasonably accommodated, nor even reasonably discussed.

        When I talk about not internalizing it, I know it is not easy, as I had to fight tooth and nail to not do so; they really poured it on thick as I was stubbornly trying to reason with them, getting more and more frustrated, of course. I eventually saw there is no reasoning, only overpowering. I was being seen not as me, but as whatever version of ‘mentally ill’ (or whatever) they had, which was not flattering in the slightest. This also led to a lot of lies about who I was as a person, about my character, but there was no convincing them of their completely irrational words and actions. Nothing had any foundation, and that was easy for me to prove in legal mediation. For sure, however, rallying others around these false beliefs is part of this sinister ritual of exclusion due to stigma. It is common practice.

        I focused on how this was affecting my spirit as I healed, owning my sense of self and self-respect, despite the fact that I felt like crap about myself because of how all of this was wasting me, but I persevered and that all got better. Because I made this my priority, I was able to finally disentangle from all of this. I had to heal a lot of self-blame, and then a lot of resentment, and come to a place of acceptance for the time being. That led to doors opening wide for me that allowed me to change my life radically and get away from all of this, leading me back to more respectful and copacetic communities.

        There’s still a lot of stigma out there of all kinds, but I hadn’t before run into anything quite as powerfully cynical and damaging as within the mental health world. Even as a Gay teen growing up in Texas, then as an adult, did I not experience anything this severe! Given the nature of illness and healing, I’d say this is grandiose betrayal which has shattered our trust.

        There’s a great big world out there with a lot of different things to offer in all areas, including healing support. I always advise to stay away from the mental health arena. While I know there are many compassionate people working in mental health, I feel the education is way mis-focused, and these kinds of power dynamics have taken over, in all tangents.

        Overall, it was a big leap from that stigmatizing dualistic world, because I had to shift radically all that I had taken on during those years in order to create a new experience of life. I did a lot of energy and spiritual work to make that happen, learned a whole new self-healing paradigm. Because I insisted I was not who they needed me to be, I found my way to my voice and truth, and I’m perfectly fine now, healthy, happy and productive, and off-the-grid entirely. I found a new life, no stigma included, of any kind. That’s because I walked out of that world and am not looking back, other than to share when it seems reasonable.

        I have a totally different view of myself and the world now than I did before all of this occurred, and that’s because I stayed alert and fought the stigma, calling it out every step of the way, even before I knew what to call it. I knew it was cruel and wrong, because of how truly awful it felt.

        I appreciate your very thoughtful responses.

        • Thanks for sharing your story. It really struck me hard that it felt easier to be a gay teen in Texas than to be a “mentally ill person” in the system! The word “stigma” hardly begins to describe it – this is blatant prejudice and discrimination. And it is always fascinating (when it’s not personally directed!) to see how quick those doing the discriminating are to defend their own behavior as beyond reproach and to blame the victim for not sufficiently appreciating their “helpful” interventions.

          — Steve

          • It was easier to be Gay in Texas than safely disclosing having a diagnosis in a graduate school counseling psych program! None of this was really a problem for me until I moved to San Francisco and entered this graduate program. There are cultural/environmental issues, here.

            Interesting what you say about appreciation–I was so extremely grateful whenever I did get anything of value, I was vocal about it, and did a lot of work voluntarily, gladly. Then they would start taking advantage of me, and I’d balk, which would not go over well.

            These relationships always started off fine, because I was responsible and did my work and as a result I healed, grew, and moved forward. But as I healed and grew into my full awareness, that’s when the resistance would start, and it would eventually become hostile.

            Indeed, stigma is the tip of the iceberg, we’re talking flagrant intimidation, discrimination, and adult emotional cruelty and abuse, that is certain to my mind. One co-worker made the comment to me, “They really tortured you.” They would turn on a dime when I set a boundary or corrected an erroneous assumption. I wanted to transfer to another agency, but they refused to allow anyone to help me put together a resume. My co-workers took compassion on me, and helped me behind their backs. It was truly insane. Fortunately, they’ve since closed their doors.

  2. Mental Health Services are the ‘ear markers’ in the process of stigma.

    They used to do this to our Aboriginal population when they caught a thief. Cut a chunk out of their ear and they carried the stigma of the crime with them everywhere.

    Given the authority by the State (Registration), and a formalisation process (DSM), they will take a chunk out of your ear with a label. Of course the label is not always immediately apparent, but creeps into your social situations in some very subtle ways. Always have to worry that your long hair is going to blow back and the earmark will be exposed.

  3. Clinicians refer to a patients perception of stigma as paranoia rather than social insight. This leads to the circular reasoning and bad medicine that is so destructive to the injured individual. Insisting that a person take neuroleptics to ward off stigma is applied magical thinking. Only those who are on the drugs are influenced by them, not the folks who reject the mental patient.

    • Psychiatrists for most part are so impervious to reality that I’d diagnose them with severe delusional disorder. Preferential treatment is the same they give their patients. I think if a substantial number of them tasted the abuse they’ve created the tide would change quickly.

      • I have made offers to give psychiatrists a ‘patient centred perspective’ on things by taking them to my local Outlaw Motorcycle Gang clubhouse. Soon teach them about deprivation of liberty, informed consent and forced drugging.

        Don’t think they are too interested in what the process is like for the patient. Oh well, the offer stands.