Experiences of being a psychiatric patient in the community, reclassified as “other’’

What’s it like being designated as a “psychiatric patient” reclassified from human being to “case” ?

I wonder, even,  how many of youjanecke-thesen have even met a clinician who could be bothered to ask. Here’s one who does ask, Janecke Thesen MD.

Discrimination starts when we objectify another as “other”.

It doesn’t have to but it does happen  when we come into contact with “mental health professionals” and the institutions they are part of whose chief mode of operating is to classify us,  re-categorise us, call us clever sounding names, tell us what’s wrong with us and what we need, and regard us as a “case”.

This is from the “experience study” conducted in Norway, and published in the Scandinavian Journal of Public Health in 2001.


By Janecke Thesen

  • Knowing that you are or have been suffering from mental illness leads to the reclassification of yourself or a shift in identity, from a human being to a psychiatric case.
    This happens first and foremost in contact with the professionals.
  • The experience of being reclassified from human being to psychiatric case is an absolute one, as:
    • others see you only as mentally ill
    • others can judge your experience as disqualifying, never qualifying
    • others can neglect your feelings as a human being, preferring actions that are “professionally correct’’ in relation to you, rather than what is ethically sound behaviour towards fellow human beings
    • the professionals can choose to stay detached and thus escape the risk of opening up to their own feelings as human beings in relation to you. But you cannot escape that risk.
  • A reclassification from human being to psychiatric case carries great consequences for how you think about yourself (self-esteem), and how others think about you (public esteem).
    The consequences affect your total life situation in terms of isolation and loneliness, low self-esteem, no paid work, lack of money, discrimination, and harassment of yourself and your children.
    At worst, you are exported to a far away place where you are forcibly kept.
  • Many choose to conceal the mental illness as long as possible. Others are, or choose to become, visible as mentally ill. There is great risk of harsh con- sequences connected with being visible. That is why the person, who runs the risk, is the one who must control information about himself or herself. Thus, more nuanced rules for professional secrecy is necessary.
  • As user and relative or friend you do not get what you need most of all to empower yourself, like:
    • practical, explicit information about the condition and about drugs and side effects
    • respectful human contact building on and acknow- ledging human feelings
    • time to work on hurt and painful feelings together with professionals
    • possibilities of developing and maintaining hope for the future.

You also stand alone when the negative consequences of becoming visible, “coming out’’ as a mentally ill person, strike yourself and your children.
No people with authority stand up for you and ease the blow (take the rap, carry the can, fan the music) in this important process.

Being a psychiatric patient in the community – Reclassified as the stigmatized “other”.

Janecke Thesen
Scand J Public Health 2001.

Find it  here, free. You can also download the full article as pdf



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