Columnist Contributes to Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness and Falls Short with Apology

I was disappointed to learn that a recent column in my local newspaper contained some language that stigmatizes people with schizophrenia.

“Winter is a schizophrenic psychopath out to get me” was the title of Neil Crone’s column.

Fortunately, many readers called him out on it. For instance, Shane Christensen of Oshawa wrote a poignant letter to the editor. Christensen, whose son deals with schizophrenia, was appalled by the title Crone’s column. Christensen notes that his son has been stable for many years, but believes—and I wholeheartedly agree—that his son will continue to suffer due to others’ ignorance and stigmatization.

Crone and his editors must have received a lot of backlash, and rightly so. As a result, the original headline was changed and a follow-up column, titled “Column’s intention was never meant to belittle or shame,” appeared shortly after the original column was published.

Although Crone writes, “It was never my intention to belittle or shame […] anyone dealing with mental health issues,” the fact is that by describing winter as a “schizophrenic psychopath out to get me,” he did indeed hurt many people. Whether intentional or not, nonchalantly using metaphors connecting schizophrenia with psychopathy is insensitive and contributes to the continued stigma surrounding mental illness.

And Crone’s apology falls short. According to Aaron Lazare and other experts on apologies, there are five parts to an effective apology:

  1. Express remorse
  2. Acknowledge offense / accept responsibility
  3. Offer empathy
  4. Undo harm; offer reparation
  5. Reassure that there’s a low likelihood of recurrence

Crone’s apology is lacking in a number of these areas. Instead of fully owning the mistake, he places blame on his editors and the sensitivity of readers. He also doesn’t reassure me that he won’t hurt readers again; in fact, he argues that he will continue to use metaphors at his own discretion.

As I read Crone’s apology, something didn’t sit right with me. Granted, that was my subjective response. However, looking at the apology using Lazare’s research on effective apologies, I could objectively discern why the apology was insufficient.

The columnist failed to make amends with me, someone whose life has been affected by mental illness. The consequence: his readership will decrease by at least one.

 

My son's seven pennies

Cents for the U.S.

My five-year-old son was emptying his piggy bank.

“Dad, I want to give my pennies away.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, I want to give them to the United States.”

I found this very interesting. I wondered why he wanted to donate money to the States.

He said, “They still use pennies.”

 

Increasing Number of College Students with Anxiety

I have worked with students for nearly two decades, and the increasing number of students struggling with anxiety is alarming.

A recent article in Psychology Today outlines reasons why so many college students have anxiety disorders.

Diane Dreher states:

Research points to three changes in our culture that could be undermining the mental health of today’s college students.

  1. An increase in materialistic values…
  2. The rising cost of college…
  3. Delayed adulthood and external locus of control…

Let me briefly touch on each point. First, I agree with the author’s statement that today there is more emphasis on materialism, consumerism, and financial success. Just the other day, my wife and I had a conversation with our young children who have begun to place too much importance on material things. “Remember,” I said to my kids, “people are more important than stuff.”

Second, Dreher points to rising costs of tuition and living expenses in the U.S., but the trend is similar in Canada. For example, when I was an undergrad 20 years ago, the average cost of tuition in the country was around $3000. Today, it is more than $6500.

Third, on the idea of delayed adulthood and external locus of control, I concur. Just last week, I was talking with a young man who dropped out of university in his second semester. He blamed everyone but himself for his lack of success.

I agree with Dreher that these factors are affecting students’ development and mental health. But I would add another societal change that also plays a major role: use of technology. Sounds like a topic for another blog.

 

 

Daddy Versus the Volcano

“Dad, tell me what should I draw,” my six-year-old daughter says.

“Um, I don’t know. Draw Joe jumping into a volcano.”

“Who’s Joe?”

“He’s from a movie. Joe jumps into a volcano to save an island.”

My daughter puts pen to paper. She quickly finishes her artwork and laughs as she shows me her masterpiece:

Dad volcano
Drawing of daddy jumping into a volcano.
Photo by M. Fleming

“That’s not Joe. That’s me jumping into the volcano!”

“Funny, eh dad?”

Yes, funny. But it makes me think at a deeper level. How would I face an impending death due to brain cloud? Would I discover meaning? Would I jump into a volcano? Would I learn how to live? Would I realize my Meg Ryan is right in front of me? And if I would, if I could, I should be able to now—in the present—without a brain cloud.

A Reply from No Frills and Bigger Problems for Loblaw Companies

Recently I wrote to No Frills about my concerns over some print advertisements I saw outside my local supermarket.

A Letter to No Frills About Offensive Ad

Another Letter to No Frills About Another Offensive Ad

I feel their use of the words bananas and nuts in their ads are hurtful to many individuals and add to the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Some readers may disagree, but remember words like gay and retarded were acceptable vernacular not too many years ago.

Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and author, shares my views and suggests society needs to banish words such as crazy and nuts. I quoted Dr. Saltz in a separate post, cra-zy.

I want to let readers know that I received a response from No Frills’ parent company, Loblaw Companies. Loblaw assured me that they did not mean to offend and that my concerns would be passed along to the marketing department.

Unfortunately, the print ads remain. And I’m skeptical that the marketing department gives a shit, for I view marketers in the same light as used-car salesmen and politicians.

Coincidentally, I read an article in CBC news today about a woman with a disability who was banned from a No Frills store because she couldn’t pack her groceries fast enough.

Woman with disability banned from No Frills store after failing to pack groceries fast enough

Kudos to Linda Rolston for complaining to head office and being an advocate for people with disabilities.

To Loblaw Companies, I would simply encourage you to treat every customer with respect; other critics, however, would say your behaviour in this case is nuts.

 

 

Century-old Wisdom on Happiness

Last month, in a post titled The Happy Life, I wrote about a couple ideas on happiness written in a book published in 1905.

Recently, I received an even older book on the subject. The Duty of Happiness by Sir John Lubbock was published in 1896.

Lubbock book pic
Cover of Lubbock’s Book on Happiness
Photo by M. Fleming

I read the book with interest and discovered three important nuggets of century-old wisdom.

First, there’s a link between happiness and nature.

Nature provides without stint the main requisites of human happiness.

Second—and my wife is also good at reminding me of this—we need to think about how grateful we are. Lubbock writes:

Think how much we have to be thankful for. Few of us appreciate the number of our everyday blessings.

And finally, we have the ultimate choice of how we live.

Few of us, indeed, realize the wonderful privilege of living; the blessings we inherit, the glories and beauties of the Universe, which is our own if we so choose; the extent to which we can make ourselves what we wish to be; or the power we possess of securing peace, of triumphing over pain and sorrow.

Thanks to Sir John Lubbock, when it comes to living fully, I will remember to consider the following: nature, gratitude, and choice.

My Love Affair With Carl

I was first introduced to the ideas of Carl Rogers, the founder of humanistic psychology, when I was in university back in the ’90s. I had a psychology professor who made fun of Rogers and his principles.

These days, if I were to run into that psychology professor, I would strongly disagree with his criticisms. But that psychology professor has probably kicked the bucket by now.

Anyway, after reading On Becoming a Person, I have come to discover that I love Carl Rogers. His philosophy on relationships and personal growth align with insights I have gained from my personal and professional experiences.

Rogers On Becoming
Cover of On Becoming a Person
Photo by M. Fleming

In my personal relationships and in my work with students, I have found that individuals have enormous potential within themselves.

Rogers discovered the same:

Gradually my experience has forced me to conclude that the individual has within himself the capacity and the tendency, latent if not evident, to move forward toward maturity.

Let’s keep moving forward.

My Son Makes Me Cry and My Daughter Makes Me Laugh

We had just finished watching a family movie. All four of us are cuddled on the couch as the credits roll. My 5-year-old son nonchalantly says, “Hey guys, I know which one of us is going to die first,” as he points his finger in my direction.

I’m eating breakfast the next morning when my 6-year-old daughter runs into the kitchen. She says, “Hey dad, I just had a really silly experience.” I ask about her silly experience. She says, “I sneezed and farted at the same time.”