Discrimination amongst the discriminated?

When I was on a psychiatric ward in the early 90’s with depression I discovered that there was a hierarchy of mental illness. The psychotic illnesses were top of the tree with depression low down, but above those with addictions. This hierarchy was evident both amongst patients and staff. I realised that even those that experience most discrimination are still capable of discriminating. Since then I have met a huge number of people with physical disabilites,and amongst this group I have found a number that “don’t believe” in mental illness; even though a lot of people with physical illness experience mental illness and addictions.

I believe that “an arsehole is an arsehole” and that just because you have a mental illness or a physical disability you are not necessarily a “nice person” and are more than capable of prejudice. There are members of extreme right wing groups from both camps, so I really shouldn’t be surprised that discrimination occurs amongst these groups, especially when we are under attack.

Even I have been subconsciously guilty, especially when I was an advocate filling out the old DLA forms. I resented how easy it appeared to be for those with physical problems against those with mental health issues, I got upset at how much the DDA seemed to favour visible disability. So I know how easy it is to be turned against those that I should work alongside.

Governments have always exploited the fact that sharing the description of disability is not enough to bond people together and make a cohesive force. They exploit our differences, look at how they use the media to highlight scroungers on benefit picking out specific disabilities often mental illness or back problems. 

I believe that, now, at a time when all those with disabilities (the hardest hit) are under attack from our government  we should put differences aside and unite against our common enemy.


24 responses to “Discrimination amongst the discriminated?

  1. I totally agree, just because you’re disabled or ill doesn’t make you a nice person. I know I’m guilty of not respecting those with addictions, in my case it’s due to personal issues, but I do try to support anyone with any illness.
    I agree that there’s a hierarchy too, to a certain extent I see it needs to be there, in an emergency those with more severe illnesses need help first, but in normal circumstances we should all be getting help.

    • Thanks for your honesty, you’re right about prioritising as long as it doen’t lead to a two tier system where those on the second tier don’t get services. Too often this happens within mental health!

  2. Try having M.E. which is not visible because when you are bad with it you simply aren’t around. Yuppie flu, nothing wrong with you, scrounger, I’ve had the lot. Yes there is a thing with mental illness, those who take what tablets for what and how many or how many times they’ve been sectioned. I am looked down on by those with mental and physical disabilities, which is ironic as M.E. is both a mental and a physical disability! It is time that all with disabilities got together as a unit to fight for better right, better protection in all ways, rather than this stupid in fighting, because until we do, we will be victims of all governments who want to make cuts.

    • The term “Yuppie flu” was coined as a way of trivialising a misunderstood illness which helps prove my point, thank you. You’ve hit the nail on the head, here’s hoping things improve.

  3. I wrote a blog about cyber bullying and talked of how I’d been bullied off a mental health forum by a man with a diagnosis of schizophrenia who claimed he had not been ill until he had been medicated and that psychiatrists were too narrow minded. He saw my partial compliance with my medication and a confidence in my excellent psychiatrist as being on “their side”. He was vicious and argued every time I showed up on the forum. He even accused me of lying about practising mindfulness. The factions on the forum were deeply divided. People with personality disorders were angry with the fact that they weren’t considered mentally ill. Even though my illness is very severe and limits me a great deal I’m considered a fake by them as I’m high functioning. In the non cyber world a neighbour reports me for benefit fraud regularly citing “she goes shopping” and “she has a Blackberry” as reasons for me being able to work. He takes anti d’s claims he’s not “one of those people”. Discrimination will never end as long as we allow people to treat all people with mental health problems the same. I’m all for equality but understanding how to apply that equality would be a big step forward.

    • That’s horrendous, but unfortunately far from uncommon both the cyber and non cyber. In order for people to see different illnesses they need knowledge, that only comes with education… what education??? People need to understand that equality is not treating everyone equally, but allowing equal opportunity, levelling the playing field… one day…

  4. It is about time, however for me the de-stigmatising of mental ill health is still a long-long way off. As is the public perception that people labelled as mentally ill are not nearly as ill, or even, not ill at all, compared with those with physical problems.

    Until the chronically mentally ill, that is those people whos lifes are inhibited by their disability are seen by ALL as equally deserving of help, then it’s always going to be a two tier system.

    And as a footnote, I’m not belittling physical illness & disability in any way/shape/form.Just wishing we were all equal 🙂

  5. Yes, there is a definite hierarchy, as someone with a mh diagnosis who attended the protest at the Tory party conference last October and was very involved in promoting the disabled people’s protest, afterwards, a group set themselves up as being representative of all disabled people and declared they were comprised of those who were at this protes however they excluded me assetively and deliberately even though friends who have physical impairments wated me to be involved. One of the ‘founders’ even told me at another protest that they would speak as being a wheelchair user they would be recognised as disabled but I would not. They also continue to deny what they have done yet all of their ‘protests’ are almost exclusively involving people who use wheelchairs. They want our support but not equal involvement and have refused to even acknolwedge us yet alone support us for years. The mantra seems to be, ‘I’m disabled but I’m not mental’

  6. i have both physical and mental disabilities which i battle with every day of my life. i cant choose which is worse, they are just different, impact on me in different ways. the way i deal with each is different, and i fight on. never giving up on fighting both things.

    prejudice stems from ignorance and a poor education, or maybe just feeling irritable from having abad day and we take it out on someone else. or maybe we feel life is unfair and we feel resentful. or whatever.

    discrimination stems from prejudice and is a sign of human failure in society. its not a perfect world, true, but we can do much better. if we alienate our disabled friends we harm ourselves in the long run because we end up not speaking with one voice.

    and boy do we need that voice, the cut backs are going to hit us hard.

  7. One voice, yes, but there has to be equality and mutual understanding which isn’t there. I honestly believe, having worked as a mh survivor within a DPO, too many people with other impairments are prejudiced against those with a mh diagnosis and do not give people with Learning Difficulties equality either, for that matter. To suggest the Disablity Movement is a unified and dandy group seems futile. To do that is like saying, ‘well, if there are inequalities just don’t rock the boat as your experience is insignificant’.

    • It’s not a unified and dandy group, that’s my point. We need to bury the hatchet and start speaking with one voice without the constant carping and aggro. Those with physical disabilities have to accept us as equals or we all go down…

      • I agree that we should be speaking in a unified voice and it would be nice if the ‘disability movement’ would do that and treat those of us with mental health or LD or autistic spectrum, as equals, but as a friend of mine who is a wheelchair user and a mental health survivor, commented, it seems unlikley to happen, and this is a real shame for people with multiple impairments in particular.

  8. I don’t feel equal. I feel invisible, irrelevant and impotent. I suffer from depression but even I dismiss my illness as unimportant because I am not important enough for anyone to worry about. As the parent of a child with a hidden disability (I have a son on the autistic spectrum), I am invisible and ignored by everyone. My son’s disability is not seen as being severe enough for me to receive any support (although I did manage to get him a place at a special school) but I suffer verbal abuse daily from him and even occasional physical threats, though rare actual physical violence directed at my person. His siblings are often at the receiving end of his aggression and he also damages things in the home when he is angry. None of this is important to anyone in authority and we just have to get on with it.

    Do I feel the physically disabled are more visible? Definitely. Do I feel I am less important than people with physical disabilities? Yes, I do. I don’t envy them at all, but I do sometimes wish that my pain and that of my children was tattooed on our foreheads for all to see.

  9. This is a great and honest blog, and some very enlightened comments. I have two hats here- someone with ‘mild’ mental health problems (they don’t feel mild when they hit me, but I’m a realist about my issues when I see/hear about what other people have to deal with). My other hat is as someone who campaigns on behalf of ‘the disabled’. With both hats on I totally identify with the hierarchy you identify, and it’s so frustrating, especially as those who think they’re ‘at the top of the pile’ can sometimes be – dare I type it- martyr-ish about their situations, and quite difficult to work with in terms of coming across as condescending towards those trying to help them.

    • Thanks Vicki,you’ve added to those enlightened comments. I’m disappointed that although I follow and have many followers from the physical disability community their comments are missing from here…. I’d be interested in Paul’s views at an organisational level too.

  10. Not sure I’m actually capable of cohesive thought today but I wanted to comment.

    I am mental and I discriminate against myself. I’ve recently been discussing a possible return to work with my care team and one of them helpfully pointed out “your HR department will have to take your disability into account…” wide eyed I replied “what disability?” I simply do no see myself as worthy of being labelled disabled. I think this comes from the intrinsic, pervasive guilt, self-blame and shame that often accompanies mental illness. A lot of it comes from the idea from those around me (loved ones and casual friends/acquaintances) that mental illness is merely a blip, something that can very finitely be recovered from. I’m not saying that I can’t achieve a recovery of sorts but I know I will never not be mental and that periods of acute mentalism will never be far away, just sitting waiting for the next chink in my armour to appear.

    I am very familiar with disability discrimination- my eldest child has ASD so I’ve been dealing with discrimination for almost 17 years. I am also very aware of the disability hierarchy- I only ever went to one support group for parents of ASD children as frankly it was too competitive, like being autistic wasn’t enough, to be “better” (which was in fact to be worse, more disabled)your child had to have other disorders, life-threatening food allergies and various health conditions.

    I wonder if it is a tiny bit naive to yearn for all us disableds to form one big cohesive group? I’m all for a bit of separatism myself after all the needs of mentalists are different to the needs of those with physical disabilities.

  11. There are real divides within the world of mental health and it makes no sense to pretend they do not exist. Take my special area of interet – employment and mental health.

    My fiercest critics tend to be people who are determined to stay on benefits. They do not feel well enough to work. That is their choice. I respect their decision but some of these people assume that everyone is like them. they do not want to accept that I have a right to work.

    Some of these people become quite abusive when they learn that I have bipolar. They like to make out that I am incapable. I do not see a lot of solidarity there.

    It is not as though I have not been acutely ill myself. I have argued on behalf people who are in that phase of illness but that does not mean to say that I have to be trapped in a time warp. I need hope too and I believe a lot of people would like the chance to work in job within their capabilities.

    However if the benefit debate stays polarised we get the worst of both worlds. We get crappy benefit rules. We get poor employment conditions. We are not in a good position to ask for better terms because we are split. That is why we need a better way of reconciling the needs of the workless and the job hunters. We are not so different and if we work together we have so much more power.

  12. More people, disabled or not, need to understand the difference between disability and the condition causing disability. Disability is difficulty or impossibility doing things that people normally take for granted, or that people in general can do and most people do in the course of their everyday life.

    So it should matter less than it seems to what the cause of the disability is. Hierarchy of disability is bad. If the question is how to acheive this, though, I have no idea.

  13. I’m another “two hat” person. I have bipolar disorder, which is sometimes invisible and sometimes very very in your face. I also have MS, which until recently has been mostly invisible, apart from relapses. People’s reactions to me vary. When “well” on both fronts, I am perceived as “normal” and people are surprised when I tell them (people use the words admit, or own up, or come out) that I have these two illnesses. On the whole at this point people focus on the MS – oh but you look so well. The bipolar is obviously embarrassing and I clearly shouldn’t talk about it in public. When I’m unwell with MS the physical symptoms are obvious and everyone is sympathetic. When I’m unwell with bipolar nobody knows what to say or do (with the heroic exception of my colleagues who are RMNs and just do their thing and actually help). Friends understand my bipolar – they come round with wish lists for when I go shopping, but others seem to think I will murder their children.
    Fellow MSers appreciate the concept of invisibility, due to the variability of the condition, but I’m not sure how this translates in to appreciation of the invisibiilty of mental illness. BPers unless in florid mania tend to be largely invisible – unless famous. The only discrimination/disaffection I have noticed is at that point – where celebrity meets BP and a miracle cure or treatment is found, such that said celebrity continues normal life, but with the newly-cool BP note attached to their CV.
    In short – I’m mostly invisible because I look really well. If my MS is a problem I become a kind of deserving good cause – it’s obvious. If I’m manic or depressed I’m scary. Mental illness is something people just don’t get. You never know what you’ll be dealing with. Physical disability is obvious. It’s not as easy to dismiss as being self-inflicted – drugs, alcohol, all your own fault. Mentals need better publicists. But in the end it all sucks.

  14. I think a lot of this tendency to discriminate amongst ourselves and even against ourselves come from the hierarchy of care- in mental health, it’s often the only outward trappings you have to signify you’re ill. So for example I often feel like I’m not sick enough to be really disabled because I’m not on CPA, don’t receive any social care, don’t have a support worker, have to visit the CMHT instead of them visiting me, have never been in hospital. Which is ridiculous, but it does make me feel like there is some amorphous standard of “ill” that I should be living up to, because assessing how ill we are and responding appropriately is what the NHS does (or tries to do, anyway!). It doesn’t work in this context though- what matters is how our various conditions affect our own lives, so comparing our completely different lives/circumstances and making judgements is pointless.

  15. I have read with interest the comments left by you all, this situation reminds me of the gay struggle; gay men are different from gay women, transgendered males to females are again very different from transgengered females to males in fact ALL sexuality is a diverse as our own finger prints and the same is for our individual health issues. The Gay Movement united in all it’s glorious diversity to campaign about injustice and we continue to do so, this does not mean that we are a homogenous group, nor does it mean that we have heirarchies each battling to prioritise their own agendas at the expense of another. Under the “Rainbow Umbrella”, we are free to set our own, more personalised agendas; lesbian motherhood, HIV and so on, whatever strand affects us more directly. We have power and strength in our cumulative numbers, we have a unifying element in that injustice is wrong and so is discrimination but are free to set out our autonomous strands within that.
    It’s worked well for us Queers, can it not work for those with disabilities whether of the body, the mind or both?

  16. There will always be a hierarchy. It’s the way humans work. I’m cyclothymic/bipolar II and even within bipolar circles I am considered less worthy because unless you have been sectioned you are just ‘playing’ at being bipolar. Seems ridiculous to me but even some psychiatrists dismiss the possibility of it bring a spectrum disorder so what chance do we have of all coming together if the medical profession can’t agree?

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