I quite like this week’s session, because it was alot more interactive, and because of the subject. I also preferred the smaller group/pair discussions in contrast with the large group discussions we usually have.
The focus today was on how we perceive people with mental illness(es).
What do you think of a depressed person? A person with severe anxiety? Bipolar? Anorexia? PTSD? Schizophrenia? Tourette’s? ADHD? Autism?
Each of these can be classified as a mental illness, although some are probably more harmful than others. We are familiar with these terms because these illnesses are commonly seen.
Personally, what I think of the person depends on how similar their situation to mine is. I have anxiety and mild ADHD, so I might relate better to those with similar disorders, and feel more empathetic to them. However, I have no idea what it is like to be schizophrenic, so I tend to be more fearful than empathetic of a schizophrenic person.
An issue mentioned today was the classification of something like depression as a mental illness. Originally, the purpose of this classification was to increase the awareness around something actually being wrong with the person, and that they are not just ‘imagining it’. However, the classification of having an illness is a two-edged sword: while it increases awareness, it also seems to increase the negative social stigma around those with mental illnesses. Before, the ‘normal’ people are trying to convince others, who don’t feel fine, that they are normal too. Now, with a category to put these people in, the ‘normal’ people can easily differentiate themselves from the group who are ‘ill’.
The ‘normal’ people no longer try to protect those who they thought truly were in their group. The sense of disconnection increases the social stigma against those in different groups, and it’s difficult to understand if you haven’t experienced anything similar in the first place. If we see someone getting a major flu, then we will recall the times we were ill, how it felt, amplify then empathise. This is not the same case. The only clue we have as to how they feel, is how they describe how they feel. So, I guess we better believe them? No, but some people with mental illnesses are pathological liars. No, you’re stigmatising against them..
The third case study, the one I found the most interesting, describes a man with pedophilic tendencies, who is married with a wife the same age as him, but is otherwise unsatisfied in the relationship. This man perhaps finds it embarrassing that he should be attracted to mature women but he is attracted to children instead. He has not acted on his feelings.
How different is this person from a person who is homosexual?
If we look at the world now, at least in NZ, US and some other countries, gay marriage is legal, and there is less stigmatisation against people who are gay.
How about in russia? (turn on english subtitles)
I don’t think pedophilia is legal in any country, because the child is unable to consent. While gay or bisexual people have a sexual orientation towards specific gender(s) that is different from the majority, Pedophiles have a sexual orientation towards specific age groups, different from the majority. Are the two that different?
What was interesting was when some people in the class shouted at the first person who raised the suggestion that the two are similar cases. This was an automatic reaction, because ‘gayness’ is put in to an ‘accepted’ category, for most in NZ, and ‘pedophilia’ is put into a ‘taboo’ category. We have been trained all our lives to think that pedophilia is wrong, and this training is so effective that it can elicit a reaction without us really thinking. It is difficult to change one’s perspective on a situation once they have chosen a position. What if we were all trained, from childhood, to think of pedophilia as just another mental illness? Carrying on this concept, what if we taught the future generation in a way that reduces the social stigmatisation against mental illnesses?
For a neuroscience course I hope to do next year (MEDSCI 206), real-life patients are brought into the class. It would be interesting to see my change of perspective after meeting them.
Thank you for reading!