CHOICES: #11 - Stigma & Ignorance

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    In previous blogs in the Choices Series, we've talked about the fact that society's definition of functionality often differs from ours to the extent that it can place us at a disadvantage. From our prospective as people suffering from schizophrenia, the assessment of our functionality at any given time can only be done fairly in relation to our capacity for functionality, much like grading on the curve. Society, however, does not grade on the curve, and this makes it a tough task master.


    In upcoming blogs we're going to take a much closer look at the tools we have available to assist us in getting from the starting line (Acceptance) to the first milestone (Functionality) in our Journey of Recovery. Before we undertake that, however, we will take a look at a fact of life that makes our journey more difficult all along the way: Stigma. In future installments we will also discuss ways of dealing with stigma.

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    Stigma is created and perpetuated by three interrelated phenomena: ignorance, fear and economics. In this blog we consider ignorance, especially ignorance concerning the prospects for recovery from schizophrenia, which often exists in the most unexpected sectors of our society.


    When my family moved to New England in 2000, I needed to find a new psychiatrist. I made one hour appointments with four in the area, looking for the one with whom I could develop the best rapport.


    The first of these and I had talked for about five minutes, when, after having asked me nothing about my background, he announced that I couldn't possibly have schizophrenia because I was too articulate. Not saying a word, I responded by getting up and walking out.


    In my discussion with the second psychiatrist, he asked me nothing about my history. After about ten minutes he informed me that I couldn't possibly have schizophrenia because I was too personable. I got up and walked out.


    The third psychiatrist set a new record. Having asked nothing about my background, after fifteen minutes he handed me a video tape and a drug company brochure on depression and suggested I join his Thursday night group therapy session. Once again, I got up and left without a word.


    The fourth psychiatrist and I talked for the full hour. We explored my past and present. I made a second appointment, thinking I'd found my doctor. As I was leaving, he indicated that he had to provide a diagnosis for insurance purposes and had chosen schizo-effective disorder. Knowing the treatment regime for schizo-effective disorder differed from that for schizophrenia, my enthusiasm crumbled.


    I had decided that I would call in the next couple of days and cancel my appointment, dreading the thought of having to begin my search anew. The next evening, shortly after dinner, my phone rang. It was the last psychiatrist I had interviewed. He explained that, after giving it further thought, he had concluded that he simply did not have enough information to make a definitive diagnosis and that he had changed my next appointment from fifteen minutes to an hour so that we could continue our discussion. With mutual respect, he and I have worked closely together ever since.


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    After fifty+ years of experience as a consumer with schizophrenia, I am convinced that the overwhelming majority of providers are dedicated to helping their patients, often in the most difficult of circumstances. Why, then, are there so many committed and caring providers unaware that recovery from schizophrenia is possible? Their ignorance represents an insidious form of stigma within a sector of society where it can inflict enormous harm.

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    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.


Published On: December 02, 2007