Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Normalizing, glorifying, stigmatizing …

Big Pharma’s latest campaign will probably send everyone in New York City running to their doctor to see if they have bipolar disorder.

Their goal is to sell more pills. But the result is just as bad as that of well-meaning advocates who use the normalizing approach to try to reduce stigma. Their advocacy leave the general public wondering “if people with severe mental illnesses are just like everyone else, why can’t they work to support themselves? Why should we use tax dollars to pay for their treatment programs?” These are severe and debilitating illnesses – trivializing their impact on people is not helpful.

Nor is it always useful to illuminate the accomplishments of historical figures who suffered severe mental illnesses. Public figures like Patrick Kennedy, who entered a treatment program after crashing his car through a gate at the Capitol, can draw needed attention to the symptoms of these illnesses can be and how critical it is to get treatment. But sometimes that lends a false impression – that symptoms are desirable, like with Van Gogh, or quickly overcome.

Normalizing and glorifying severe mental illnesses don’t eliminate stigma – it just confuses the issue for everyone. Stigma is a huge problem for people with severe mental illnesses – one that can be fixed with straight talk, not feel-good platitudes.

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