Tuesday, June 05, 2012
Misusing the Term Schizophrenia, and Other Mental Health Terms.
Another misconception is that schizophrenics are violent people to be feared. A major source for this confusion is the skewed lens of the media who tend to focus on the rare examples of schizophrenics who commit major crimes. They prefer these stories because they are sensational and sensationalism drives ratings and newspaper sales. The reality of course is that schizophrenics are more likely to physically hurt themselves than anyone else [Click here for link]. Another source of this falsehood is Hollywood, an institution that also favors the sensational stories for the same reason. Rarely do you see a positive and accurate portrayal of mental disorders in the media and entertainment.
Additionally, the media often throws further confusion into the mix by misusing the terms "schizophrenic" or "bipolar" to describe politics, governmental policy and even the weather!! [click here for link]. The media wouldn't describe a politician as being, "retarded" or describe a confusing weather pattern as being like an Alzheimer's patient!!! So, why is it acceptable to cavalierly throw around other medical terms like schizophrenia or bipolar? Using these terms in the wrong context also trivializes these severe, psychological conditions as mere behavioral traits. This further stigmatizes people with psychological diseases as "weak," "irresponsible," "whiners" or "overly-dramatic." The assumption then is that sufferers should be able to just adjust their behavior and act like everyone else. This particular stigmatizing reaction often leads psychological patients to doubt themselves, hate themselves, doubt their condition, stop taking medications and even commit suicide.
All these stigmas dissuade people from getting help because they are either embarrassed, ashamed, misinformed or afraid. They encourage society to shun people with these conditions as "defects" which only furthers isolates patients and fuels suicidal actions. These are serious consequences that shatter millions of lives daily, which is why it's so important to correct people when they misuse these terms. You're not overly sensitive, rather you're being pro-active and quite possibly saving lives. If someone tells you that you're over-reacting, ask them if raising awareness and education about breast cancer is, "over-reacting."
Thus, in conclusion, since the media is the source of information for most people, it is the institution that needs the focus of our attention. Send them emails when they misuse these terms, and correct them. Tell them why it's so harmful and educate them about the real nature of these conditions. It's important to talk to our friends and family to raise awareness and correct mistakes. However, if the media can be educated then they will influence many more people than any one single person or group can do.