Thursday, August 28, 2014

You're not an addict. You're a borderline.

Yesterday I was at an all-day "safety" training, which intends to teach employees how to de-escalate clients who are very upset or angry. The idea is to calm them down verbally before they become physically violent, although you also learn how to break out of various ways people can grab you.

During the training, the topic of mental illness and violence arose -- understandably, since we work with people who have mental illnesses, some of whom occasionally might become violent. The trainer, a program manager, was talking about one of her residents who frequently displays aggressive behavior.

"She's a borderline," said Tessie Trainer. "You know what a borderline is, right?"

Well, no, I don't. I know that some people have borderline personality disorder, and that many of them have difficulty managing their anger and impulsive behavior, so sometimes they are aggressive or violent towards others. (Or themselves.) But it always bothers me when people use psychiatric diagnoses as adjectives. I'm not "bipolar" or "a bipolar." I have bipolar disorder, but it's not my only or my primary defining characteristic.

This became even more striking when Tessie explained how our formerly homeless clients have been marginalized and stigmatized for being homeless or abusing substances. They've been ignored, stepped on, attacked, and labeled.

"I tell them, 'You're not an addict, you struggle with substance use,'" she said.

I didn't think it was my place to point out the glaring inconsistency. First of all, I'm still on probation. Second, I didn't want to call her out in front of everyone. But it bothered me. If we're not going to stigmatize our clients for their substance use, we shouldn't stigmatize them for their psychiatric illnesses.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

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