What Is In A Name

One of the human races greatest gifts is language and we use it as a way to understand and recognise the world around us and our place in it.  In most cases this is a reassuring process, how children grow to understand what they see as they learn to speak.  However there is a danger inherent within, like most things in life there are choices to be made in how we use language and what labels we place on many things.

stigma 2I have come over time to recognise how naming things can sometimes be a negative.  In particular when it comes to the Mental Health Sciences a doctors  and counsellors primary goal is to define or diagnose a person’s mental health and proceed to label it according to where it fits within the medical models.  Unfortunately there is a great deal of stigma attached to mental health and whether people realise it or not someone who has been ‘diagnosed’ and labeled finds themselves at somewhat of a disadvantage at times.

Honeymoon Bunya MtsLet me explain what I mean.  My husband has paranoid schizophrenia and has been diagnosed since he was 21.  He is also a well-respected consultant with Qld Health, an author of two books and is currently finishing his Masters Thesis in Mental Health and best case practices.  Not so long ago he was feeling exhausted, he would get night sweats and any physical activity left him drained.  Now this is not normal at all, in fact he is extremely fit but when he went to the doctor to organise some tests he found himself coming up against a wall of stigma.

This GP looked at his chart and saw his diagnosis and immediately started asking about his meds and was he being ‘compliant’.  I was with him and I asked what that had to do with anything and he tried to tell me that my husband was probably depressed and the best thing to do was alter his medication.  I explained that was a load of crap far from true but he gave me this look of pity that said I was being fooled by a crafty crazy person.

He did order bloods but what we found when we returned for the results was he had order bloods to test my husbands levels as he hadn’t believed he was being ‘a good boy’.  I naturally responded with calm politeness using a few names that I  think hadn’t even been invented yet to express my sincere gratitude for his help.

Finally we did what we should have done and went to speak with some of the medical staff that he works with who immediately took one look at him and had him in hospital for tests.  It seems his ulcerated colitis and been severely aggravated and was releasing toxins into his system at an alarming rate.  It was so bad by that stage that they weren’t sure they would be able to reverse it this side of surgery.

All of this drama could have been averted had the GP treated a man instead of a mental health patient. Early in our marriage I had always wondered why he would like me to come in with him to see the doctor but I soon realised that it was to back him up about what he was saying.  This time was the worst example but it is definitely not the first nor will it be the last.

stigma 1

Stigma for many is the price you pay for a label, be it race, gender, sexual orientation or mental health and it is here we can see how the danger of naming, labelling or categorising can lead to discrimination  well-intentioned or not.

Weekly Writing Challenge – Power of Names




57 thoughts on “What Is In A Name

  1. When I went to the MD a couple weeks ago. I was in so much pain my body literally shook in pain. My MD was not in and I had to see someone else.
    They walked in and stated that they had seen my chart, history of DV and anxiety disorder, and depression and proceeded to ask if I was sure this wasn’t some manifestation of “nerves”. Needless to say I went home to return the following day.
    When I returned multiple fractures were found on x-ray. I suffered embarrassment, and shame along with a few broken bones and an extra night in agony due to the stigma.
    Great post


    • It angers and saddens me that you would have to deal with something like that on top of the pain you were already suffering. It is even worse that medical professionals (who should know better) so often ignore the person in favour of a diagnosis.


      • It was really a great post, Jenni. I almost never re-blog, but I did re-blog this because I thought it said something so important in a selfless way.


  2. I completely understand this, Jenni. I have a mental disorder and I often feel as though I’m not taken seriously when I have a physical ailment. It’s quite frustrating. My disorder has been well managed for over a decade now, thank you very much, and don’t need anyone else re-diagnosing me – and certainly don’t need a doctor treating my disorder – just me as a human being. I simply want a doctor with compassion who sees who I am, not a label.

    Frankly, I rarely go to a doctor unless I absolutely have to because of this. Really a sad state of affairs.


    • I’m sorry that you have had to deal with such discrimination and it wasn’t right for you to have to deal with the stigma before being treated as a person.

      I experienced when I was younger in regards to my physical health. As I got older my period got progressively more painful and at times could knock me of my feet with sudden bursts of pain. Went to the doc and he gave me some pain medication and told me ‘some women just get pain’. Years later after a major episode I was diagnosed with polycystic ovaries and the pain I felt was when one burst. I was lucky no truly large ones had or I would have died of toxic shock. Stigma and the need to label people do so much physical and mental harm.


  3. Mental health isn’t the only time this happens. I have a physical illness that leaves me with lots of pain. I have encountered a doctor who basically said the diagnosis was a load of rubbish and it was all in my head. I also met doctors who refused to investigate new symptoms assuming it was just the progression of my illness (turned out I had another illness as well that has now been successfully treated) and have now found a brilliant GP who understands that I know my body better than any medical professional and that when I say something’s changed, she gets it investigated. When some of my symptoms got worse recently, and my stomach was more messed up than usual my GP has actually listened to me and sent me for blood tests (currently waiting for results and hoping it is something easily treatable) and I feel so lucky to have the GP I do. When she was on maternity leave though, I found it easier to go to A&E. They didn’t have all my records and so relied on me telling them about my diagnosis, which I ‘accidentally’ forgot to tell them once or twice. There’s so much stigma in society. I would have hoped that the medical community would at least understand, and it’s a horrible realisation when you find out that they don’t.


    • In a way it’s worse with medical professionals as a large number have an inbuilt sense of superiority as to their intelligence as compared to us wee mortals. In that arrogance they can miss things due to such an absolute sense that they are right in all medical matters. Stigma related discrimination permeates so many areas of our lives and it is so unnecessary I feel.


  4. Outstanding post. My father, uncle, and grandfather were all GP’s. I never witnessed or heard of them acting so callously but who knows? I certainly hope they were always good doctors.
    Thanks for sharing.


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  6. It’s detrimental to start placing people in preexisting categories, for it limits what they can experience and who they are. Though there are variations like paranoid schizophrenia, I know that labeling mental health is meant to help people, but it compacts, orders and limits their experiences to pre-existing modes of experiencing life, which is contradictory to the varied ways in which people living with mental health experience life. I’ve talked to people with clinical diagnoses and they don’t feel like the terms best represent their reality.

    Though a name may be arbitrary, it has the power that we give it. As soon as we name something we limit what it can be understood to be, though the process of naming is how we relate and communicate; without language who knows where we’d be right now. There is so much contrariety to us as humans.

    I’ve decided Jenni, we as humans are a very backword race.


    • Hmm … you know you must be much smarter than I am because it has taken me this long to truly understand that most people don’t even get when they are labeling people. You have a lot of insight in you and I’d be interested to see where that takes you over time.


      • Oh no, you flatter me! I just have an unfortunate history of being labelled so many different things. When you’ve been weighed down by cloaks of useless, hurtful, stereotypical names you familiarize yourself with the material.


      • Sad but true – but don’t minimize yourself, knowing the material and understanding it are two different things and add to that the ability to convey your point with clarity and skill is nothing to sneeze at.

        Trust me I rarely give true compliments – just the usual congrats stuff – ask my husband he says the only benefit of my ruthless honesty is that when I praise him he believes it.


    • Yes not overly fond of the medical profession in general. So many view the world by looking down at us wee mortals from their lofty olympian heights as if most of us were bugs sent to annoy them. Not all thank goodness but more than enough.


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  8. The stigma of mental illness will never change. For some reason, it’s associated with being incapable. I grew up with a mother who was paranoid schizophrenic. Unofortunately, she wasn’t always able to care for us as she should have. But, that doesn’t mean all are incapable. There are many people without mental illness that don’t care for others or themselves very well.
    I have many health issues that require doctor visits. I awlays take my husband. Everyone should have an advocate with them. Doctors can be intimidating. Having someone else there to speak up or remind you of something you’ve forgotten to tell the MD or just to recall for you what your diagnosis when you get home is very important.
    This is an exceptional write about the stigma associated with a very debilitating health condition. Brava!!!!


    • It is sad that so many doctors treat the condition and not the person but I am glad you have someone you can rely on to be with you when facing that situation. Thank you for taking the time to read this and give me feedback – it is greatly appreciated.


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  10. Great post! You’re right, there is such a stigma around mental illness, and this is partially to do with ‘names’. My husband was diagnosed with depression last year and he was too ‘ashamed’ to tell his lecturer that this was the reason he has been signed off – He thought by having the word ‘depression’ attached to him, it would affect his chances of getting a good job in the future.

    It’s true, mental illness is more complex than just a ‘name’ or ‘label’. You cannot define a person as just ‘depressed’. The fact that your husband has been so successful, despite suffering from a mental illness, sheds light on the fact that people shouldn’t be disregarded on the basis of what illness they have. The fact it’s called an ‘illness’ doesn’t really sit comfortably for me, I’d rather just say…depression is just a small part of us. It doesn’t define us, it’s just a little piece of what makes us, us!

    Thank you for sharing this.


    • In mental health literature it is now considered more appropriate to say experiences mental health issues, rather than ‘suffers’ mental health ‘illness’. People say it is all about being PC but it really isn’t – language is a powerful tool that places ideas in our mind and images based around the choices used to describe things. I am sorry that your husband has had to battle with depression and I hope that he finds a way to balance it with his working life as well as family. Thanks for taking the time to read the post and give me feedback as always it is appreciated.


  11. I think using the correct language is important, however it can also make people very nervous about not offending anyone who is experiencing a mental illness. I just slipped up myself…as you say, it is considered more appropriate to use the term ‘experiencing’ than ‘suffering’, and I couldn’t agree more. ‘Suffering’ almost paints the picture that mental illness is a TERRIBLE thing. Yes, it’s not ideal but it’s life. I just wish it wasn’t such a ‘taboo’ subject, so people would be more open to it, and therefore, less judgement would be made.


    • You and me both – discussion in an open forum is the best way to lay fears to rest but getting people to take the risk of ‘outing’ themselves is hard.


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  16. Thank you for sharing this story. I’ve also feared the stigma attached to depression before. But I finally overcame it. Your article is very enlightening especially to those who have mental health issues.


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  23. Brilliant, Jenni, just brilliant. Thank you for sharing something so painful and so widespread (I suspect). Stigma destroys. xxx


    • Thank you – it is an awful word and even worse experience. I’m sorry you’ve come up against it yourself. Thanks for taking the time to let me know what you thought of the piece. Look forward to hearing from you again. Jenni


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