Monday, March 23, 2009

I'm calling you out Globe

Dear Readers of Newspapers and Consumers of Media,

I have a lot of respect for the Globe and Mail right now, a Canadian news publication.

Now, I'm not normally one to go off trumpeting the merits of various media or consumer products, but the Globe truly is doing a good (or better) thing. Right now, the paper is running a series of articles on mental health and the issues that surround it. In fact, an entire section of their online paper is dedicated to mental health. It's called the Breakdown Series.

I'm not quite sure why they've picked up on mental health, since most media outlets spend a lot of time either provoking contention in events that involve mental health, or they simply ignore the greater (and more serious) issues for want of an outrageous headline.

But here they are, the grand Globe, a national rag, doing a series on the lowliest and least popular of all health (and social) issues. And they're even trying to be sensitive to boot, it seems!

But I have an issue with their most recent online article relating to mental health, and this is an issues that has appeared in more than one article, by more than one author. (I know, I know, I should never expect perfection... and maybe I should be grateful for the ink we have right now, but I'm not one for table scraps under any circumstances!)

In Patients' rights frustrate families, the ugly issue of nomenclature - what to call people with schizophrenia - rears its ugly head.

You need to understand, this is a highly contentious issue, even among people themselves who live with the condition. Apparently no one likes to be called "patient;" and "nutbar" or "frutcake" or "schizo" are certainly unacceptable. And so a zillion fairly inaccurate euphemisms have been conceived and parlayed into our language; consumer, survivor, mentally ill, person with lived experience, client, and on and on and freakishly on and on. A million and one ways to politically or not-so-apolitically say something without saying it: A person who has the condition of schizophrenia. (Keep in mind that many of the euphemisms I stated are also generic catch-alls for basically any condition affecting mental health, and many have nuanced connotations... also so many are misnomers in and of themselves and their usage that I could likely write a volume of books about misnomers in mental health.)

So what evil word did Picard, the author of the article, use to describe a person with schizophrenia? He used the modifier "schizophrenic" in the 6th staccato sentence of an article of considerable length. He used the word schizophrenic to describe Matt, and basically every other person who lives with the condition of schizophrenia.

To be fair, Picard first described the inspiration for this article, Matt, as a person "who suffers from schizophrenia." And that's nice. We get an idea at least, that we are talking about a person with a disease that is harming them, until we get to pretty much the next sentence which basically identifies Matt (and people with schizophrenia in general) as a walking-talking disease process. To be sure, Matt's not got an easy ride, based on the description of his current circumstances, but I find it unfair to reduce the identity of a person to a disease process... to reduce all people who live with this condition... to the limited concept of what schizphrenia is.

And we know that the concept of schizophrenia as a condition affecting health is limited... especially in our media. Mostly our media is concerned with conjuring up images of the negative mythology that surrounds this illness. The media myths suggest that people with schizophrenia are crazed murderers, unpredictable people, untamable monsters with no access to logic or reason, and... you get the picture.

Since the Globe appears to be interested in dealing with the social issues surrounding problems and conditions of mental health, I have asked the Globe to put their money where their mouth is; to make a clear committment to a cause that they themselves seem to support.

We all know that the mythology that is heavily circulated in the media exacerbates the public's negative (and in my opinion, harmful) perception of mental health conditions. And so here is my comment (more of a request) to them:

And the Globe and Mail can make a simple yet profound change by retiring the word "schizophrenic" to the annals of journalistic anachronisms that don't belong in a newspaper any more.

People have schizophrenia. They are not schizophrenia, and schizophrenia is not them. Furthermore, "schizophrenic" is not an accurate modifier to describe a human being... it says far too much about a health problem (and more to the point... the negative mythology surrounding a health problem), and far too little about the person who happens to have a health problem.

Let us put our proverbial money where our mouths are, dear Globe... if we are going to report on the social injustices of mental health care or lack thereof in Canada?

Unacknowledged and unarticulated widespread systemic discrimination is the foremost among those social injustices, and is the primary cause of the "secondary symptoms" of mental illness (the poverty, the instability, the homelessness, skewed laws, and distorted public perception among them).

So please, for the love of humanity, retire the word Schizophrenic. Be the first major media outlet to humanize, instead of sensationalize, this very serious condition of health.

My blog: addressed2occupant (dot) blogspot (dot) com

And so dear reader, what will the Globe do? Will they rise to the occasion of this challenge... to commit themselves to the social issues not only in the breadth of topics they cover, but also in the depth of how they write about the topics they cover?

We shall see.

Respecting the power of words,

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