Monday, September 26, 2011

Who Are the People (with Mental Illness) In Your Neighbourhood?


There are a lot of stereotypes and assumptions out there about “who” mental illness sufferers are. No matter how many celebrities write books with “revelations” of suffering bipolar or PPD, or how many families contain at least one Crazy Aunt Mary many persist in believing that mental illness is the domain of the poor, stupid, homeless and criminal.

There is plenty of critical thinking and anti-oppression analysis we could do to figure out why people think this way (and why many with mental illness are vulnerable to becoming poor, homeless etc) but I haven’t the energy/time for that right now.

If any one needs proof that mental illness is something which affects people from all walks of life, they should spend just 5 minutes hanging around the local out-patient centre or treatment clinic.

I accompanied a client to his psychiatrist appointment today at Local Hospital out-patient clinic (I know! I said I’d never go there again, but reality bites). Someone who didn’t know him would see that he is a family man (his wife was with him) is middle aged, and might guess that he is an immigrant (English is his second language).

While we were there I spotted a familiar face that took me a second to place. A woman I recognized from my old neighbourhood - she spent a lot of time hanging around the back alley, lived (sometimes) in a nearby crack-house, and often stopped people to ask for change on the sidewalk. I used to try talking to her sometimes, but it was difficult because her tongue was always protruding (possibly a med side effect or a symptom) and she would usually walk away when I didn’t have any change to offer.

On the way out of the office I recognized a woman I know from my family’s church. She’s a white, upper middle class professional who goes to bible study with my mom. I have actually run into her once before in a psychiatrists office when there with another client. We nodded to acknowledge one another and she seemed happy to leave it at that. We did this once again, adding a smile, when encountering each other at the hospital.

In the span of that five minutes I came across people from a wide cross-section of my own life, and who covered a good range of social locations.  And I know it’s not just me.

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