Yesterday, the news broke that a Tory (Conservative Party) candidate for Parliament in Cambridge, Chamali Fernando, suggested at a hustings that mentally ill people could wear wristbands to communicate our disorders. She said wearing wristbands indicating the nature of the person’s condition would be helpful to professionals as they often could not explain themselves (from The Tab). Let’s take a minute to pick over why this is a terrible, terrible, not great idea… in list form!
1. It would increase stigma: While there are any number of us that are out and ‘proud’ about our assorted mental disorders, a lot of people aren’t. Nor should they have to be. Having such an obvious label would likely end up with people avoiding the bearer rather than encouraging them to educate themselves on what their situation is.
2. It would make sufferers more vulnerable: Unless people around the bearers made a point to operate with compassion and educate themselves, the person wearing the bracelet would find themselves lacking in support that might have otherwise existed if they had continued to pass as ‘normal’. And, of course, with disorders like schizophrenia, ‘everyone knows’ that they’re all dangerous murderers… oh, wait.
3. It’s insulting: While there is some validity in suggesting that some people might be unable to communicate their distress, that’s a fairly small minority. Even if she didn’t mean it as a catch-all for everyone, her words demonstrated to me that she generalised the situation too much. That circles back around to the first point — stigma comes from ignorance, and however ‘well meant’ the suggestion was, it comes from a presumptive, uneducated place called Stigmaland.
4. It’s exhausting: It’s one thing for people you trust and are comfortable with knowing that you have a mental illness, but it’s a whole ‘nother thing when it’s the rest of the world. The people you are close to, who are in your space space, aren’t going to hover over you like you’re going to ‘go crazy’ at any second. If everyone in a work space knew about a co-worker’s mental illness, there would be the very real risk of ‘well-meaning’ people looking for signs of episodes in every tiny little thing. This is one of those very real problem areas where people start to dismiss one’s valid and real feelings (especially negative ones) as being due to their mental illness. So really, that would be a total backfiring, putting the onus of explaining things on the ill person, and/or having to pretend even harder to be ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’ just to get left alone.
But is it a completely bad idea?
No, there was some intended compassion in the suggestion, and in some cases, people might actually find this a reasonable way to make sure they aren’t beaten and incarcerated. I’ve seen some people suggest it’s no different from a Medical Alert bracelet, and at its heart, the idea is about the same.
The issue is she suggested colour coding for disorders, which really. REALLY. We are people, not easily labelled disorders. As those of us amongst the Bipolaratti know, you can have the exact same diagnosis as someone else, but your experience is vastly different. Some of us have it pretty good, others have it pretty bad, but we’re still all on the bipolar spectrum. Knowing that someone has bipolar because of their red and blue bracelet wouldn’t tell an authority whether or not the bearer was high or low, or how high or how low, or whether or not they rapid cycled or had comorbid personality disorders (though I guess you’re supposed to bangly with the comorbids *cough*).
What do you guys think?