Key should challenge mental health stereotypes, not perpetuate them

When I was a schoolboy, one of the common schoolyard taunts was to refer to someone as “mental” or “loony”.  Through most of last century, mental illness was a highly stigmatised issue, and people with mental health problems were hidden away from the rest of society, often untreated and/or mistreated, in what were once known as “lunatic asylums”, later to become “mental hospitals”.

In more recent times, New Zealand society has begun to develop a more enlightened attitude towards mental illness.  The prevailing attitude now is that people with mental health issues should be part of their communities unless they are a threat to themselves or to someone else.  Unfortunately, the resources have not followed them to the extent necessary, and mental health is still a poor relation of the health system, but at least there has been some progress.

There has also been, thanks to organisations like the Mental Health Foundation and campaigns such as Like Minds, Like Mine (which I was involved in establishing) significant progress in de-stigmatising mental illness and reducing discrimination against people who suffer from it.  There is an increased recognition in society that people with mental health issues need to be supported and treated; not hidden away, discriminated against, and made the butt of crass humour.

Sadly, that increased recognition does not seem to have permeated our Parliament, which often still seems like my childhood schoolyard.  I have had to sit in the House and listen to put-downs such as “Did you forget to take your medication this morning?” or an MP referring to another’s speech as a “psychotic outburst”.  One MP, who had to take some stress leave from Parliament many years ago, is even today frequently taunted in the House about his mental health.

Yesterday, we hit a new low, with the unedifying spectacle of the Prime Minister laughing at assertions that an MP may have mental health issues, and asserting that the MP concerned didn’t because “[h]e didn’t look very sick to me last week”.

John Key can’t have spent much time watching the Like Minds, Like Mine campaign advertising, or he would have known that you can’t judge the state of a person’s mental health just by looking at them.  Not every person with a mental health issue is the rambling incoherent stereotype John Key seems to think they are.

44 thoughts on “Key should challenge mental health stereotypes, not perpetuate them

  1. Today’s generation of politicians will be gone one day, hopefully replaced by people like us who ‘live real’. I am proud of my mental illness and my efforts towards recovery, and if I ever make it into the ‘House of High Paid Pain’ (quote from Catherine), I will take every opportunity possible to acknowledge my own battle and those like me, and will carry my diagnosis with honour and pride, and pity the fool who decides to make fun of it. John Key’s comments were despicable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 2 (+11)

  2. MistressR-I hope you’re right, I do see a more pragmatic and collaborative approach reflected by many of the younger MPs across the political parties. When my son attended the youth parliament I was impressed by his descriptions of respectful behaviour and discussion around issues and fact rather than promoting unsupported ideology or making personal attacks. I also hope that the current culture doesn’t eventually currupt most that have to work within it and so continue the unsavory existing practices.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2 (+5)

  3. Sorry, but mental health issues can and are used just like gay issues, as a scape goat for wrong doing.
    Mental Health and people that suffer need all the help and support we can give them. But not lets confuse it with bad behaviour and let it be used in this way.
    This behaviour demeans the rights of all true sufferers.
    A Mental Health illness does not take away the need for personal accountability. In this case I beleive personal accountability should be in force.
    For those with a genuine illness, dont stand for this, as I said above Mental Health makes a good scape goat.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 10 (-2)

  4. Wendy, I don’t see anywhere in Kevin’s post anything that even vaguely suggests Chris Carter should be excused for his behaviour. Kevin didn’t even mention his name.

    The post is about some Labour and National policians’ neanderthalic attitudes and stereotypes on mental health issues, not about Chris Carter’s behaviour.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1 (+8)

  5. Toad. Its odd that you should name someone twice, though I didn’t name anyone at all.

    Maybe until bad behaviour is no longer blamed on Mental Health Illness, will changes in many peoples conceptions really change for the good.

    As I said before Mental illness is no reason to behave badly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 9 (-5)

  6. Unfortunately Key’s negative attitude permeates right through NZ’s Health System.
    Given that there is no such thing as ‘normal’ certain people would do well to make use of their own bathroom mirror.
    IME people who go to the trouble of getting a diagnosis – decide upon re-inventing themselves, are a lot more Healthy than anything I saw on the Government benches yesterday.
    NZ’s health system is enough to give ya religion – backward 1950’s style bullying – so obsolete in it’s thinking that most of the Tax Funding they receive goes into a Beauracracy that is there entirely for the purpose of denying responsibility for their own abyssmal failures and the Deaths that result from such.
    Recent cutbacks have meant a reduction in frontline health services – the beauracracy remains intact.

    Part of the reason Australia wants no part of a Union with NZ is that our systems are too far behind, too out of step to be integrated with any sort of contemporary system. i.e; If Professionals in Oz behaved the way they do here – the Courts and the Government would have a log-jam of Claimants seeking Malpractice Redress.
    I might add, the Justice system here is just as bad – Simon Power – you may have the ability, we pay you plenty – how about going to work? – and I don’t mean jabberwocky performances in the house

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1 (+4)

  7. I wonder what’s worse

    – saying Carters mental health issues are not real (without knowing).

    – or those who earlier said Carters mental health issues were real (without knowing).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 4 (+3)

  8. Not so long ago Women were burned at the stake for ‘behaving badly’ … for simply seducing a ‘Reasonable Person’ (defined by law) into thinking ungodly thoughts … that was enough to point the finger of blame and the defendant assumes an ‘irrational’ burden of proof … witch, by itself was never enough – hell no, give us public humiliation, defamatory public remarks, persecute those that show humility to the defendant, for y’all are just as ‘bad’ as the them ‘unreasonable ones’ … put them in the stocks and throw rotten fruit at them and THEN burn them … but do it around 6pm, so it doesn’t affect the production line. That will send a message to all … bad behaviour is not acceptable. It will not be tolerated, on the grounds of protecting the rights of ‘reasonable people’, as defined by law.

    There is no spirit in the law. The law serves industry and industry needs to be protected from irrational fools that speak from the heart, because their egoic mind is not on the job of extracting value from those they feign to serve.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 (-1)

  9. Thanks for this, Kevin.

    Key’s ‘bully-boy’ attitude won’t do well if the 1 in 5 (or so) families who have dealt with a loved one with mental illness, take offense at his behaviour.

    Whatever the reality of Mr Carter’s situation, this is unacceptable from one who aspires to continue to be the leader of our nation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 2 (+4)

  10. Katie yes you are likely right. But how is it that one person can say anything about another and its ok because it is claimed the he/she has a mental health issue. Then another speaks from the heart and is pummelled, should everyone claim a mental health issue if one wants to make a point and not have criticism. Please note I am not a Key supporter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1 (+1)

  11. The question is, should people with mental health issues be running the country?
    An illness by definition is a disabling of normal functional behaviour, and while I can accept that it is unfair for people to mock sick people it is also unfair for the sick to expect “able” people to give them any credibility.
    Talk of being “proud” of an illness seems illogical to me, I can’t see how dysfunction could be a source of pride. However I can see how a determined effort to overcome the illness could be, I think anything other than that would only encourage a victim mentality.
    I believe that people that encourage a victim mentality in those suffering from mental health issues are every bit as cruel and destructive to society as the callous “bully boys” are.
    Deliberately keeping people sick is cruel.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0 (+3)

  12. Shunda, all people have degrees of impairment and many people in power have suffered to some extent from alcoholism, depression, flues, grief, drug addiction, deafness, speech impairment…and so on. Many have been regarded as effective or even great leaders despite their disability so where do you draw the line? I don’t think that it is sensible or safe when behaviour is unacceptable or thinking is impaired but all of the above can be managed.

    I agree with you about how people with disabilities are regarded often dictates how well they will be able function.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0 (+2)

  13. Shunda,

    I have yet to see a politician that does not fit the criteria for, at the least, one Axis Two disorder. We may not have much choice.

    I would add that a half-decent politician is likely to have to deal with many issues and that should they have won against a disorder then the skills thus gained are another potential tool.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 (+4)

  14. I am not talking about life experience here Sapient, I am talking about attitudes to dealing with mental illness.
    I think the definition has become so broad that there has become a very effective “excuse” industry based on “you can’t judge me because I’ve got a mental illness”.
    The cheapening of terms like this only ensures that a victim mentality will probably soon be included within in the healthy range of behaviour.
    Nobody can be proud of an illness, I have had my own battles and can appreciate the need for sensitivity, but there is some territory that needs to be moved through quickly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0 (+3)

  15. What? My TV says it’s ‘we’ who make the difference.
    Any which way you want to look at it – it is damned poor form for any PM to make fun of Mental Illness.
    The Sapient is right again.
    To find such things funny, one must have serious psychological illness, shortcomings and a sadistic predatorial nature.
    Abuse is most unbecoming – the Gnats should have a look at their performance on TV.
    Not that I want them re-elected – just so they know what everyone interested saw.
    Irretrievably Fugly
    Carefully drilling holes in the bottom of one’s own ship…..
    O Well – won’t be hard to improve on that Standard.
    Judith – Vamps went out with Black & White TV.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  16. Kevin Hague’s piece addresses some of the issues and problems I’ve been wrestling with for some time. In his analysis — and he’s correct to address the most common form — the verbal dismissals and derogatory characterizations are directed at the less powerful.

    But how does one address and write about certain issues when that is not the case. In the U.S., for example, a huge portion of the Republican Party really thinks the President is a secret Muslim, that he was really born in Kenya, and a smaller number believe that he is probably the anti-Christ out of the Book of Revelations. Meanwhile they believe there’s an enormous problem with racism and racist oppression in the U.S. but that the racists are Black and the victims White.

    These are not rational errors and it would be a mistake to treat them as such. But how then should they be presented? What language should be used to challenge the beliefs without adding to past victimization of those far less powerful?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  17. Maybe Key is just pre-empting asking the Queen to make him an honorary Fellow of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists – just like he did to get his newly conferred title “Right Honourable”.

    The Rt Hon Dr John Key BComm, MBChB, FRANCP

    Gotta ring to it, don’t you think?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 2 (-1)

  18. When will you be shocked at what MP Hone Hawariwa said?
    I’m waiting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 8 (-4)

  19. jh, I really can’t be bothered with what Hone Harawira said.

    I don’t share his views on that, but like the Chris Carter saga they are a distraction from the real political issues like government attacks on workers and beneficiaries, the denigration of our streams and rivers, the sell-off of our land to foreign investors, the inadequacy of succesive Governments’ responses to climate change, increasing child poverty, and New Zealand’s appalling child abuse statistics – and the inadequacy of our mental health system for that matter. Key reinforced an unfortunate mental health stereotype – Harawira just expressed a personal prejudice that many of us do not share.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2 (+2)

  20. Intolerance?
    Is that a dreadful thing Shunda?
    Should we tolerate everything?
    I wouldn’t have thought you’d agree to that!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3 (-2)

  21. “The question is, should people with mental health issues be running the country?
    An illness by definition is a disabling of normal functional behaviour, and while I can accept that it is unfair for people to mock sick people it is also unfair for the sick to expect “able” people to give them any credibility.
    Talk of being “proud” of an illness seems illogical to me, I can’t see how dysfunction could be a source of pride. However I can see how a determined effort to overcome the illness could be, I think anything other than that would only encourage a victim mentality.”

    Without going into too much detail, my ‘mental illness’ was pushed apon my by the despicable actions of other people. I have actively been in recovery for 5 years now, and am long term stable on medication, and have gone from strength to strength in my life. I surely am PROUD of conquering my demons. However, my ‘mental illness’ (PTSD), will have ongoing symptoms for life, though they are less and less intrusive with time. I certainly am at a point in my life where I can function at a very high level, even in politics, without fear of being ‘unstable’. And that is something to be VERY proud of. Many of the politicians I can think of who have done great things in their time in Parliaments around the world have some sort of ‘mental illness’. The time has come for that to be accepted rather than hidden on fear of discrimination and the butt of jokes from other politicians who are so unconfident of themselves that they resort to personal insults and degredation of their peers.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1 (+4)

  22. Without going into too much detail, my ‘mental illness’ was pushed apon my by the despicable actions of other people. I have actively been in recovery for 5 years now, and am long term stable on medication, and have gone from strength to strength in my life. I surely am PROUD of conquering my demons.
    .
    Good on you, there is nothing more inspiring than when people overcome adversity, I hope you can continue to do so and even get to the point that you can be off the meds.
    .
    The time has come for that to be accepted rather than hidden on fear of discrimination and the butt of jokes from other politicians who are so unconfident of themselves that they resort to personal insults and degredation of their peers.
    .
    Well if people are have truly overcome their mental illness no amount of abuse from other politicians will affect them, insecure people have no business being in leadership in any form in my opinion, it goes both ways.

    A serious problem with leadership, whether political, church, or anything else, is the tendency to elect people for shallow or superficial reasons, depth of character is often completely overlooked.
    I have tremendous respect for people that have overcome mental illness, they are often some of the most rational grounded people around, but they will tell you that during the struggle they weren’t, and I certainly wouldn’t want them in a position of leadership then.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0 (+3)

  23. Intolerance?
    Is that a dreadful thing Shunda?
    Should we tolerate everything?
    I wouldn’t have thought you’d agree to that!

    .
    We certainly can’t tolerate a sliding scale of morality.
    If a white man says something that is considered bad, then the reaction should be the same if a brown man says it.
    The issues of mental health on this thread could equally be aimed at Chris Carter, how dare he cover for his disgraceful conduct by feigning mental illness, he is making a mockery of people enduring a legitimate struggle.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0 (+4)

  24. Shunda,

    This is an issue where I am rather ‘iffy’. That is, if someone should be treated differently, positively or negatively, simply as a result of them having some kind of mental or behavioural impairment in functioning.

    I would hate to be granted extra entitlements, or given a lower bar over which to jump, simply because I function differently than others; just as I refuse the extra entitlements I am allowed simply due to my Maori lineage. Likewise, though I am harder on myself than on others, I would not expect to be given less entitlements, or a higher bar.

    Psychological disorder is the result of environmental interaction with a genetic and personality diathesis’. Contrary to what MistressR has said, it is never simply given; rather it is the result of individual traits, many of which the individual is unable to alter. Genetics plays a substantial role in the development of a disorder (for a quick example, earlier this morning I was reading an article investigating a mutation relating to a Dopamine2 binding site and the single [T to A] nucleotide modification made individuals three times as likely to suffer from severe depression, severe anxiety, and migraines). To say ‘no you cannot take part in government’ because of something that is largely genetic is paramount to racism or sexism, not that many here would seem to have a problem with that.

    I do not know what the minister is proposed to have (though I assume Axis I, probably depression), but most disorders would not substantially impair the individuals ability to function as a minister if they have actually been able to make it that far and so long as it is kept under control. A disorder that is known about is a whole lot less dangerous than one that is not known about and with carter, frankly, I would not be worried unless it was previously unseen mania or schizophrenia; in both cases rare at his age and, given his current position of power, hardly harmful to the country.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  25. @Shunda barunda 12:05 PM

    Shunda, we don’t know if it is genuine or if Carter is feigning it. So why speculate? The people who will know will be the health professionals he is seeing, and presumably the lawyer who is advising him and the Speaker of the House, whom I anticipate will require medical evidence to approve the extended leave (not that the Speaker can impose much of a deduction from pay if the medical evidence is not forthcoming – I’m please he is doing something about that unnacceptable situation).

    But for Key to state that he knew Carter was not sick just from looking at him is completely inappropriate.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1 (0)

  26. I think I can speak for john Key too when I say I suspect Carter is just one of those dizzy people who are otherwise known as flakes. John Tamahere revealed he was a “tosser”. Does that denigrate people with genuine mental illness? I don’t think so.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 9 (-8)

  27. Shunda says:
    If a white man A what? European? Some other races are ‘white’. How about a white woman? says something that is considered bad By whom? The ‘whites, the browns, the inbetweens, the reactionaries, the bigoted, the moderate, the media, left wingers, right wingers, Christians, Libertarians? then the reaction should be the same if a brown man says it . There are brown-skinned people of various shades all over the globe. Are you suggesting they all think the same way?
    Questions on questions. Where will it end?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3 (-2)

  28. Personally, I reckon he’s got what it takes and will do the biz.
    I don’t buy the righties spin around Goff at all. Aside from the Carter implosion, Goff is building a strong case against National and will benefit from it more than, it appears, most think.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

  29. Meh, it does not take much to build a case against National; his ability to do so suggests little about his skills. I don’t see him staying around too long after he looses the election.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1 (-1)

  30. @Shunda barunda 7:05 PM

    Yeah, as usual, (and not targeting you in particular, Shunda) taking the piss out of someone who may (or may not) have mental health issues!

    I just wish we could leave the Chris Carter stuff alone. He has behaved like a dork. There may or may not be mitigating factors.

    But in the context of the serious environmental, economic, and political issues of the day (and the next couple of centuries), are the antics of a has-been Cabinet Minister whose days as a member of the Executive are long gone and will never return really of any great significance?

    Let him move on, and let us move on. Perhaps to the more serious issues Kevin raised in starting this thread.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0 (+3)

  31. Yesterday, we hit a new low, with the unedifying spectacle of the Prime Minister laughing at assertions that an MP may have mental health issues, and asserting that the MP concerned didn’t because “[h]e didn’t look very sick to me last week”.

    John Key can’t have spent much time watching the Like Minds, Like Mine campaign advertising, or he would have known that you can’t judge the state of a person’s mental health just by looking at them. Not every person with a mental health issue is the rambling incoherent stereotype John Key seems to think they are.
    ……………
    I think that is a distortion of the message “you can’t judge the state of a person’s mental health just by looking at them”, which really means people with mental health problems look just like everyone else; the point being they are normal people with normal health issues.
    It isn’t saying that humans can’t form judgements about others behaviour.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0 (+1)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>