Mental health
Society 18/03/2021

"It is very common for us, people with a mental illness, to be called names"

Organisations and professionals denounce the constant stigmatization of a group that is often associated with crime

2 min
Íñigo Errejon in his speech from his seat in the Congress of Deputies

BarcelonaThe "Go to the doctor" that Íñigo Errejón had to hear in Parliament when he called for a mental health plan is the daily bread of people who suffer from a mental disorder. "Insults are very common", laments Dani Ferrer, who has been collecting "stigmatising" expressions published in the media for years, often linking a person's badness or strange behaviour with madness or other mental illnesses, so the commotion created in the Spanish chamber has come as no surprise to him. "Minister Borrell already spoke of identity schizophrenia, Ábalos referred to Casado's mental disorder and Minister Margallo sent a member of parliament to a psychiatrist", recalls this activist and member of ActivaMent, an association that fights against stigma.

As has been demonstrated once again, mental health continues to be a weapon used to insult and dismiss opponents. To hurt them, stresses Núria Martínez, secretary of the board of Ammfeina, which works for the social and occupational integration of the group, and points out that this is largely the result of years of clichés and film characters that have built a collective imaginary of bad "psychopaths", despite the fact that there is no link between evil and illness.

For Ferrer, scenes such as those at the Spanish Parliament cause "a feeling against mental illness to permeate society" and, in this sense, he admits that these situations occur in any social class and context and are so bad that they create "self-stigmatisation" among people with a diagnosed pathology. "They make us bad, irresponsible, unpredictable people", complains the activist, who also regrets that discrimination complaints go nowhere and attacks go unpunished. The activist argues that the struggle for the recognition of mental illness is very recent, so social awareness of the affected group has not yet been raised and "laws are not tough enough to punish stigmatising behaviour".

Experts warn that the health crisis due to covid that has put the hospital system to the test will be followed by a "mental health epidemic" due to cuts in mobility and socialisation, high levels of unemployment, deaths and suffering and sunk expectations. In this context, Errejón called for a mental health plan, with more staff resources and investments to be able to deal with the increase in cases. Núria Martínez is clear that mental health has to be treated beyond the strict field of health and is committed to addressing it from "education, justice, or work" and claims that it is essential that companies include mental health in their occupational risk plans, at the same level as physical health to prevent falls or injuries. Mental and emotional well-being is basic, she says, to have a normal life.

Despite agreeing that the existing programmes should be readjusted and the number of professionals in this field should be increased, Ferrer also calls for a collective reflection to correct the violation of the rights of this group. "In this country it is still legal to use mechanical restraint, to tie you to the bed for one or two days to protect yourself or others", she denounces, and insists on the laxity of the rules that allow "legal incapacitation at will" and the fact that until recently the possibility of forced sterilisation was not eliminated from the legal system, especially in the case of women with mental disorders.

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