Sunday, 5 May 2013
The word "Mad" has a variety of connotations.
Yet, in today's society we use this word regularly as a pejorative term to describe people who be find difficult to work with, who may see the world in a different way or with whom you may have had political or other disagreements.
Our understanding of society and human interaction has improved dramatically since the 19th century, yet some of us still behave as if nothing has changed.
This article explores the 21st century of the word "mad" and its use in the vernacular; to discriminate and stigmatise despite increased awareness and legal protection.
Why would you call someone mad?
It is easy to use the word in its ordinary meaning; perhaps to describe an action which you would consider foolish.
It is also easy to use the term to describe someone who you find unpleasant or perhaps disagree with.
The key question is why do you consider the action to be foolish, why do you find the person unpleasant or why do you disagree with them?
In any event, the use of the word mad to describe someone is inappropriate.
Mental health, Autism, Learning disability
In recent time, Mad, was used to describe someone who may have had a mental health condition, who was autistic or had a particular learning disability.
However, we now recognise mental ill health for what it is, notwithstanding the discrimination that still persists. For example, someone who is bi-polar, will experience a wide range of mood. At times, behaviour will seem energised, enthused or even manic. This lasts but a short time, there after, the same person may appear withdrawn, closed in on themselves and disinterested or not engaged.
We also have a better understanding of autism. Not everyone experiences the world in the same way and communication is a skill the majority of society takes for granted, often ignoring that for some people, communication, even in its basic form, can be extremely challenging or even scary.
Similarly, if someone is dyslexic, they may come across as articulate, intelligent and knowledgeable. However, reading, writing and remembering all may pose particular challenges. In a highly focused written world, it would be easy to write someone off as just being lazy or not capable.
If you find someone difficult to get along with, ask yourself - why?
Is it because you have nothing in common or do not share their political beliefs?
Is it because you find their decisions or actions foolish?
Is it because you find it difficult to understand what they say alot of the time or do not understand why they look dire one minute and full of beans the next?
Is it because you simply can not be bothered, find the person irritable or irrational, they speak their mind, including voicing criticisms?
Do you lack patience?
Have you considered seeing the world through their eyes?
Do you jump to conclusions or make certain assumptions about the person's suitability for particular roles or what they are capable of?
Have you discussed the person with colleagues, friends, co-workers and ignored the person? (perhaps you even encouraged others, whether directly or indirectly, to isolate the person?)
Did you describe the person as Mad, what about crazy, hostile or stupid?
The Equality Act protects individuals who share protected characteristics from discrimination - which can be both direct and indirect. Individuals are also protected from harassment and victimisation.
It is likely that mental health, autism and learning disability fall within the legal definition of disability. In order to benefit from protection, you do not have to be disabled personally. You are also protected from discrimination based on perception of disability and or association with someone who is disabled.
The civil law also affords protection. There is statutory protection from harassment in the form of the protection from harassment act and also at common law - where it is a civil wrong (tort/delict) to cause an injury or loss to your neighbour.
It is also important to keep in mind that disabled people are protected from hate crime.
Actions have consequences
It is easy to avoid or seek to exclude the individual or individuals whom you consider to be problematic.
It is also easy to encourage others to marginalise or avoid.
However, what are the practical consequences?
In some circumstances, a person may be denied opportunities for promotion or to advance themselves because of the negative attitudes and rumours spread by others.
Likewise, a person may not feel comfortable coming forward to engage in future if they feel that they are going to be marginalised or exposed to exclusion.
In some extreme cases, this can lead to bullying, harassment and victimisation.
In many employment circumstances, it is easy for illfounded complaints to add up, resulting in making it difficult to remain in employment because of negative working relationships.
It is easy to get rid of the difficulty, by removing the person, rather than tackling the prejudice behind the problem.
This is discrimination and is why many people, who have mental ill health, who are autistic or have a learning disability are excluded from work.
This is also one of the reasons why so many people with mental health problems or who have autism are found in the criminal justice system or are excluded from education.
Dont judge - support and encourage
I would have hoped that attitudes would have improved in the 21st century.
There has been progress, but probably too little, too late.
It is important that if you find yourself working alongside a colleague who sees things differently, or who needs some support, that you show support and challenge any of the ill-will that the tyrany of the majority will send his or her way.
We are all unique individuals and there is no 'normal'.
Challenge the stigma.
Please don't judge others, lest you be judged yourself.