As we approach the UK general election on the 7th May, (register to vote here), we are constantly being bombarded with policies and procedures that each political party will endeavour to commit to if they win the election. Whilst I haven't decided who to vote for per se, I have been taking a silently keen interest in the policies of each party and using the next few months of research and observations to come to my decision on who I will be giving my vote to. (this will be my first opportunity to vote in a GE, as my 18th birthday fell four months after the last general election).
However, one idea that particularly caught my eye was one addressed by a Conservative party candidate in Cambridge, who suggested that authoritative figures such as the police force or barristers would benefit from the use of wristbands that would identify mental health patients clearly and thus make them stand out from other members of society, supposedly to make lives easier for those in these authoritative positions.
There is so much WRONG with this idea that it makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall.
Firstly, it is important to address that having colour codes for each individual mental illness wristband would not only be completely inappropriate but also impossible. It labels the mentally ill and reverts us to these stereotypes where we are seen as no more but our diagnosis. Also, I fall under the category of multiple mental illnesses and in many cases, labels take us back to the idea that in order to be labelled as having a particular illness, we must meet every requirement on the DSM checklist that falls under that illness. But that simply is NOT the case. Most people with a mental illness do not just have one illness on its own, their issues and symptoms can fall within a range of varying diagnoses available within the DSM and thus it would be impossible, and ludicrous, to suggest that depressives wear black wristbands, anxiety sufferers wear blue wristbands, OCD sufferers wear silver wristbands and vice versa. Whilst I agree with labels to a certain extent, I completely agree also with the idea that they do nothing but perpetuate stigma, providing umbrella terms for symptoms that are fluid and fluctuate constantly. My current therapist for example has never referred to my illness via the use of spoken word, or addressed me as a BPD sufferer per se (this information is held within my diagnosis letters), and through this I am just seen as a human being that is going through a hard time, struggling with certain issues, rather than confined to a strict set of rules and regulations that define myself and my actions. I have been diagnosed as having a variety of illnesses over the years. Anorexia Nervosa, Borderline Personality Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Depression, alongside a magnitude of other symptoms such as self-harming and suicidal thoughts which could fall into any or all of these categories. Knowing someone's diagnosis does not necessarily make it easier for the police force to aid a certain individual - and I know this through having a partner who is a police officer who has previously worked with mental health patients. Being diagnosed as a depressive does not mean that your personality and actions are confined to a particular form. So many depressives such as myself are high-functioning and able to work and attend University without causing danger or harm to society. If that confuses and/or people as it clearly seems to be, then there is so much more work to be done than I thought.
Mental health disorders are so unbelievably broad and are experienced by 1 in 4 people across a variety of age groups. I first begun experiencing signs of a mental illness at 12 years old, and never was forced with labels and medication until I was a lot older. I was young, distressed, unhappy and used certain mechanisms as a way to cope. I kind of believe in a way that this is the way that adults need to be treated also - although I understand how labels can be useful to psychiatrists in developing treatments. What I'm trying to say is that would having a wristband at the age of 12, or 22, telling me I was depressed have communicated to my teachers, peers, work colleagues and university lecturers, or would it have isolated me further? Would it have provided me with a further reason to define myself as 'different' from my peers? I think you all already know the answer.
This broadness means that the severity of one's illness varies from one individual to another. A person can experience mild anxiety, which could involve constant sickness, chest pains, and a fear of constant panic but which doesn't affect their ability to perform everyday tasks. Alternatively, anxiety can develop into house bound agoraphobia, and thus affects your ability to function normally in a severe way. Both of these forms of anxiety deserved to be dealt with respectfully and similarly, however neither warrants prejudice which does nothing than confines them to the idea of the worst possible form of the illness that they have received impressions of typically through the media. Illnesses such as bipolar disorder and BPD are particularly awful for this one. Both of these illnesses have been read along the same lines as those who commit severe crime as of late, when in reality people with bipolar disorder and BPD are just the same people as those you meet in nightclubs, on the tube, in your office and on your street. They're just like you and I and deserve to be treated as so.
Not only do wristbands perpetuate stereotypes but in doing so they also provide people with a reason to fear. Let's face it, the media in recent weeks hasn't exactly been complimentary about the mental health world and whilst I believe (and continue to believe) that we have come a long way in reducing stigma, we still have a long way to go. It provides the stigmatisers a method of judgement, a reason to judge. I'm not saying it should happen or that it's right, but it does. These wristbands also insinuate the idea that mental health patients will be a danger to society in the first place - those with mental illnesses are more often than not more of a danger to themselves then they are to society and that is a cold hard fact. Why should we have to warn others away from us? Why should we give the public a reason to see us as an outcast when we are no different to any other individual? Why should I identify myself to others as mentally ill before I identify myself as a student, a girlfriend, a daughter, and a friend?
The simple answer is that I shouldn't. And neither should you.
P.s - I apologise for my extremely lengthy absence but I have been consumed by a mass of University coursework and revision for my upcoming exams. I officially finish my second year of University on the 1st May and will be returning to my blog then for updates and new posts! So bear with me! Thank you for still viewing and staying committed.