Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Missed point of talk

A letter to the editor posted online today by
I wanted to acknowledge South Shore Now for reporting on an event held several weeks back — the AGM of the South Shore District Health Authority. At this event, I spoke about issues very close to my heart, and engaged in a lively discussion with some very caring and intelligent health-care workers and citizens.

Around the same time, I was asked to speak to a journalism class taught by a friend of mine at the Dartmouth Nova Scotia Community College. I was asked to speak on the representation of mental illness in the media. For this talk, I have chosen to highlight your article, entitled “Mental health advocate calls for collaborative approach to wellness.

In this article by Keith Corcoran, the credibility of the speaker (myself) is challenged from the very top of the article by the rather sensationalist and jarring placement of the first line, which refers to my contemplation of suicide as a preteen. If such a detail needs to be mentioned (which, given the context of the talk I gave, it doesn’t) it could be somehow contextualized, or even placed further down in the article. It also refers to my experience with schizophrenia in terms that are not the current way to define a person who has been given said diagnosis.

Mr. Corcoran decided to refer to me as a “schizophrenic with a history of anorexia, anxiety and depression.” Unlike the other experiences, the schizophrenia piece of my life was not delegated to my history, but was instead how I was principally defined. I am an artist, a registered counsellor and psychotherapist intern, a public speaker and a person with a lived experience of schizophrenia — not a “schizophrenic.”

Indeed, my mental illness was the gateway to my understanding the mental health system from the inside, and was the reason I decided to become a clinician myself, but it was not the point of my talk at the AGM that night. The point of my talk was to help clinicians to remember why they got into the helping profession in the first place, to give my humble perspective, and to think about some directions we might take to keep ourselves in touch with why we continue to choose to help others.

It was essentially about mindfulness for mental health professionals. And although I made a provocative joke in my speech hinging on a concept that was omitted from this article, I would be careful in the future about the paraphrasing of critical statements about persons’ experiences with mental health care.

By missing the point of my talk, and by defining me as an illness first, person second, you have not only hurt me, but have hurt all of the other people who fight against the stigma of mental illness every day in your area. And for those who are already prejudiced about those who experience mental illness, well, you have given them one more juicy tidbit to gossip about.



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