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Michael Kimber writes about his experinces in trying to overcome the stigma associated with mental illness. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Michael Kimber writes about his experinces in trying to overcome the stigma associated with mental illness. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

STATE OF MIND PART 1: THE STIGMA

Mentally ill and 'out' but not yet embraced Add to ...

She wrote a then-rare article for The Globe and Mail's Facts and Arguments page, boldly describing the reactions, both insulting and carelessly hurtful, of the people around her. “I just thought, ‘Hang the consequences,' ” she says. “I couldn't believe how unenlightened people were.”

Her outspoken approach led to a job speaking about workplace accommodation from a first-person perspective.

She feels any stigma about her disease less today. Her fierce openness forces people either to accept her or slip out of her life, she says. But once in a while, she realizes her friends may not be as enlightened as she hopes. She recalls a conversation at a dinner party, in which a friend was critical about a new transition house for psychiatric patients being built nearby: What kind of “mentals” would this bring to the neighbourhood? Ms. Schluter pointed out that she herself had stayed in this kind of housing in the past, and, when the woman refused to back down, she left the party.

“I guess she was so irate, she wasn't picking up on what I was saying,” she recalls “There were at least eight other friends in this group sitting around that table. And nobody spoke up.”

Meanwhile, as Mr. Kimber's blog continues to draw attention, he is using it as a vehicle to urge other people to share their stories. As he writes, “You have to make the effort to make the world understand. We don't need any more inspiring stories about instant cures and celebrities defeating all the obstacles. We need to redefine what a happy ending is.”

Erin Anderssen is a Globe and Mail feature writer.

Related Links:

Michael Kimber's blog, Colony of Losers

A video telling Michael Kimber's story: The Cure Visual Poem

Another Michael Kimber video: Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are



From ‘evil' to ‘mentally ill' in the media

Newspaper stories don't toss around the word “evil” any more to describe people who commit crimes. Instead, as a McGill researcher has found in analyzing five years of Canadian media coverage, readers are more likely to see the phrase “mentally ill” linked to a crime story, especially the most sensational ones.

“In the old days, we would have said an evil person was on the loose, and now people just say a mentally ill person is on the loose,” says Robert Whitley, a psychiatrist at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute. “The moral language has been replaced with this medical language. Now [people with a mental illness]seem to be a shorthand way to describe any person or event that is shocking or depraved.”

Dr. Whitley led a team of researchers who analyzed nearly 9,000 articles from Canadian newspapers, as well as television news. He says the research, which is yet to be published, found that only 12 per cent of the stories took an optimistic or positive tone about mental health. Another 29 per cent used derogatory language to refer to people with a mental illness; Dr. Whitley cites an editorial on courthouse security, for instance, that referred to “the mentally ill” as “nasty characters.” Nearly 40 per cent of the print stories related to violence and criminality, and treatment or recovery was discussed in less than 20 per cent.

But Dr. Whitley says the most surprising finding was the lack of voices in the stories – both in print and TV. Three-quarters of the articles did not quote a mental-health expert, and 84 per cent didn't include a comment from a person with a mental illness. “You wouldn't write an article about hockey without interviewing a player or manager or Don Cherry,” he observed.

If the media are the main source of information about mental illness, Dr. Whitley suggests, then current coverage feeds into many persistent misconceptions.

“There is still a skepticism that people with mental illness can be rational and good at their jobs and be a good parent.”

NEXT WEEK IN FOCUS: How does having a child with severe mental health problems affect your work and social life? In part 2 of a series, Andre Picard will report on public perceptions of mental illness in the past and present.

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