In case you were worried, I’m not going to be talking about my views on fashion today- I would have no right as you’d know if you saw me out and about most days. I am closer to a cabbage in genetics than I am to a ‘fashionista.’
No, instead I’ve nervously decided to share my views on what will be a familiar topic to many of you- Tory candidate Chamali Fernando who suggested those suffering from mental illnesses should where colour coded wristbands to identify their specific conditions to frontline staff. I’ve been concerned about sharing my view on this issue because their has been such outcry to this careless suggestion and a lot of personal hurt for people around it. Comparisons to Nazi Germany have been made as well as what I can only describe as a public shaming of this individual demanding she stands down in her candidacy.
In my opinion her idea was naive and clearly not very thought through, this is definitely true. I would certainly loathe wearing a wristband that identified my often very stigmatised condition, especially if this was legally required as chances would be that those ‘people in high places’ making the laws won’t have experienced the stigma and discrimination towards mental illness that can be so crippling. The unsubtle identifier would be problematic just about everywhere; in the workplace, education, with friends. However, I do not think Miss Fernando’s intentions were malicious, just misinformed and too casual over what is a very sensitive issue in this day and age.
So, unlike many others, I see a lot of valuable positives of having some immediate identifier for Police, legal teams, paramedics etc. for those who suffer from serious mental illness as they may sometimes be unaware or unable to express this in a crisis due to psychosis or extreme distress. This is a situation I’ve been in on several occasions but thankfully each time my family have been contactable for an explanation. If this had not been the case I would have, perhaps, had very different treatment. I believe if there was such a notifier for frontline workers it would improve the treatment of a huge number of people who come into contact with law enforcement or emergency medical teams in crisis. The result could be the use of less aggressive and threatening treatment from police and lawyers when responding to disorderly behaviour as they’d be aware when dealing with the person of an unusual circumstances and hopefully less seriously mentally ill people ending up in the harsh prison system (currently estimates to be 20%.) Staff would have enough knowledge to contact mental health services faster possibly meaning that the person gets access to treatment quicker.
The country’s mental health care system is in shambles, especially when dealing with serious mental illness and there is a huge amount of discrimination- the notifier wouldn’t be able to change that but it would effect the quality of care a person gets when first identified. The benefits of having this awareness have been proved by the use of the Vulnerable Person’s Registry in the US. Furthermore, this method is used for physical illnesses that effect treatment decisions already. A subtle necklace or bracelet is worn. The idea being exactly the same.
The problem for me is the colour-coded bit and the generalisation that ‘all people with mental health problems could wear it.’
Colour coding is not subtle. The notifier would simply do just that, notify. The staff member would then have to check the person’s record. This should not be a neon warning sign that would replace specific research but a helpful signal that this case needs to be treated sensitively- ultimately beneficial to the person. Just as paramedics check the neck or wrist of a patient immediately to see if the individual has extra requirements physically. The difficulty is also who would wear them and whether it would be voluntary or required. Perhaps, again like with the physical healthcare system, those who’s mental illnesses or learning difficulties may effect their behaviour significantly would wear it- this being identified by the service providers. If this were to be obligatory a solid legal procedure would have to be discerned abiding by people’s rights, plus, the enforcement of this within all mental health care would be pointless- there is a huge difference between the effects on a persons behaviour of mild anxiety and schizophrenia.
I would resent it if it was forced upon me but if it was a subtle necklace that made the difference between whether I get taken to the local police cell or the local hospital it would be worth it. Plus when people wear bracelets saying this too shall pass or support mental health it is not incredibly dissimilar.
To conclude, I felt the outcry was too harsh. We, as people with mental health problems, have been victim to discrimination, fear and mockery for so long and we have finally got more of a voice but if we use it to condemn those who are simply naive but genuinely trying to help we may miss out on some very valuable ideas just because the person hasn’t had ‘direct’ experience. I think public shaming where intent was not malicious does the very opposite of what campaigns like Time to Change are trying to achieve- it makes people less likely to talk. Yes, an idea presented publicly by a politician should be considered sensitively and blurting it out was a careless mistake but I don’t believe it is comparable to the Nazi persecution of the Jews. I suppose is it is an instance of ‘let he who is without sin cast the first stone.’ I am certain I have made careless remarks about issues sensitive to others often and actually what I need most is not punishment but information and greater understanding of the issue which I am unlikely to get from anywhere else but the patient person I offended in the first place.