Those of us who have a psychiatric diagnosis are a part of the disability community as a whole. Recently there was a controversy in that community involving writing for a major website. The debate centered on the issue of who should be able to represent, or be the voice of, people with disabilities. I learned a lot from reading the blogs, Tweets, and Facebook messages that followed from both sides: People with a disability, and caregivers or supporters of a person with a disability.
In the past, I have had problems with writers trying to write from the perspective of a person with schizophrenia. I feel like there are plenty of good writers who also happen to have schizophrenia. And those writers, who are under-represented in the mainstream, should be encouraged to tell their stories and the stories that relate to all of us with a mental health diagnosis. Also, I haven’t felt like writers outside the community have created work that represents the realities and the truths about living with a severe psychiatric disorder.
Previously I felt like our voices (those of us who have a disability), were not given a platform to describe our experiences. I feel a little less radical about that currently because I have seen some tasteful and fairly decent portrayals of life with schizophrenia from artists who do not live with the disease. But for every good or accurate, movie, video, book, etc. There are ten inaccurate portrayals that rely heavily on voices, grandiose thinking, visual hallucinations, etc. There are so few stories of people who despite their symptoms, or absence of them, continue to live a fulfilling life.
Because of this controversy, I thought it would be interesting to point out the changes in language that are taking place within the disability community and among our allies (some of the changes deal directly with how we discuss mental health issues). I have compiled some articles and guidelines for ways to talk to people with a disability. I hope you will read through some of these and leave comments about what you think.
I have read post after post on Facebook this past year that claim that we, as a society, have become too politically correct. I feel like that argument is just an excuse to continue to use language that may be offensive to a group of people. In recent years, it has become unacceptable to use words like fag, or retarded, or many other words. Those words have become very offensive, and it doesn’t cost the person anything to stop saying them.
What do we gain from more sensitive and inclusive language? People from marginalized groups gain dignity and respect. Who wouldn’t want to give people more dignity or respect? It isn’t about being politically correct, and even if it was, how hard is it to stop using words that hurt and injure? To refuse to give up a word that harms others is an act of aggression towards the people addressed.
This link addresses mental health and schizophrenia specifically. (As a side note, even though some people living with schizophrenia don’t mind, please don’t refer to me as a schizophrenic – I find that offensive to define me by an illness).
At the computer photo available from Shutterstock