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‘St Ann’s’ is a psychiatric hospital, not an insult

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

In any manifesto for change towards a comprehensive mental healthcare system some changes are easier than others. 

There are blueprints for changing laws, ratifying conventions, accessibility for wheelchair users, access to public spaces for animals accompanying the visually impaired, and so much more. 

When it comes to changing people’s hurtful attitude towards disability of the body or mind that would take the straddling of disciplines. It’s almost a separate science requiring long-term investment for increasing knowledge, understanding, and empathy. It’d include reforming our language system for political correctness at all levels.

Attitude is considered as a dominant, universal hindrance to social inclusion of those living with disabilities. One eminent sphere of influence that begs for improvement in the language of mental health matters is our mainstream/traditional media. Local media personnel in some quarters—more than we like—are lacking in linguistic competency even on familiar subjects that are easier to understand. But for mental health issues there seems to not even be much consideration for correctness.

We who advocate against the contribution language makes to our social exclusion do not intend to make an entire population awkward with the use of certain words in everyday discourses. Instead, we hope to teach the meanings of these words and what they convey in promoting discrimination against and marginalisation of an entire community, unintentional or otherwise.

I’ve written about this before but since last December it’s been on prompt with the viral video of police officers slapping and shoving a wheelchair-enabled Robbie Ramcharitar in San Fernando. There was at least one newspaper striving for correctness throughout the issue referring to Ramcharitar as a “man in a wheelchair”. Not even the intervention of Dr Beverly Beckles, CEO of National Centre for Persons with Disabilities (NCPD), stymied the offending language that remains unabated to date. I watched for weeks, as Robby Ramcharitar apart from being the victim of alleged police abuse became a “victim” of a wheelchair. Report after report insisted that he was “wheelchair bound”. 

What’s increasingly upsetting too, is that politicians have heightened their presence in our headspace and with the currency for far-reaching attention in an election year, they are among the most abrasive to our community in the terms used to insult each other. There is absolutely no compunction in calling every opposing infraction “madness” and relegating any behaviour that could be described with dozens of suitable adjectives to “St Ann’s”. 

Then in a continued underestimation of the injury inflicted on those who live with mental illnesses from mild to severe, the media report and highlight the offending, vicious, and insulting language of the politicians. Then, the new friend-turned-fiend medium called social media is emblazoned with the folly. The cruelty is perpetuated on popular timelines with conversations sustaining repetitive assault as each commentor tries to outdo others or show prowess in crassness. 

I suffer. I’ve stopped reading or commenting on these. That’s my protest. My other protest would be against any political party whose platform/member trivialises mental health to insult another. You, sirs/madams, will not have my vote. I know some people would always feel entitled to their use of language. Some with whom I have tried to reason because of perceived intellectual ability have defended the disparaging language as “Trini talk”. Still others believe that trivialisation of other people’s mental health struggle is good humour. And some are without ill motives, just drowning in ignorance.

They are mostly all considered upstanding citizens who would never break a stoplight. They’re fully aware of the consequences of such actions and have been groomed to the common interest of obeying the signs even when no one is looking. So entrenched ignorance about the hurt they cause is bliss, obviously. Mainstream media, social media, and citizens in general are all guilty of the negative stereotyping, participating in the continued prejudice and discrimination that those of us living with disability, especially psychosocial ones, face. 

Last week I saw a picture of a politician captioned: “PSYCHOTIC...Psychotic disorders are severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions. People with psychoses lose touch with reality. Two of the main symptoms are delusions and hallucinations. Delusions are false beliefs, such as thinking that someone is plotting against you or that the TV is sending you secret messages. Hallucinations are false perceptions, such as hearing, seeing, or feeling something that is not there.”

My response was: “IDIOTIC: 1. characterised by idiocy; 2: showing complete lack of thought or common sense : foolish.” I opined, “Unlike psychoses, still no plausible or possible treatment available.” I don’t regularly react to trivialisation of genuine pathology, but I’m grieved, because I know “language both reflects and shapes social reality so our choice of words can reinforce stereotypes and contribute to various forms of discrimination.”


• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications professional and media practitioner with over 30 years of proficiency. She has been living/thriving with mental health issues for over 35 years.



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