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.

 

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.

 

 

Another Letter to No Frills About Another Offensive Ad

Dear No Frills,

Last week I wrote to you expressing my disappointment with one of your print advertisements that contained a derogatory term.

A Letter to No Frills About Offensive Ad

I’m disappointed that I did not receive a response.

This week, I wanted to let you know about another offensive print ad that I saw in the window of my local No Frills supermarket. The ad must be part of your “Perpetuating the Stigma Around Mental Illness” campaign.

Our Social Life Is Nuts
Advertisement in window of local supermarket

Now, I like eating nuts. Except pistachios, of course. One night when I was younger, I ate a lot of pistachios which led to an unfortunate bout of diarrhea. I haven’t eaten pistachios since. Anyway, other than pistachios, I like eating nuts. I do not, however, like seeing the word nuts being used in an offensive way.

I hope you consider pulling this advertisement. When it comes to the stigma around mental health problems, let’s try to reduce it, not preserve it.

A Letter to No Frills About Offensive Ad

Dear No Frills,

I’m happy that you sell bananas. I like bananas.

I once read that if you dress up as a banana and eat a banana, you are a cannibananabal. It’s true. I read it one day on my joke-of-the-day calendar.

Kidding aside, I’m writing to express my disappointment with some of your advertising. I saw this print ad outside of my local No Frills supermarket:

no frills bananas
Advertisement outside local supermarket.

I like the simplicity of your design. Unfortunately, however, your advertisement contributes to the stigma surrounding mental illness. The implied meaning of the word bananas in your pun is a derogatory term and hurtful to many individuals who experience mental illness.

I hope you consider pulling the offensive advertisement.

cra-zy

cra-zy
adjective
mentally deranged

At two distinct times in my life, I was non compos mentis, which in Latin means not having control of one’s mind.

Rest assured, I am totally compos mentis right now.

Yet every day I’m reminded of the agony of losing my mind. First off, people use the word crazy incorrectly. Each time, it reminds me of times of personal despair and anguish. Second, words like nuts, crackers, bananas, and loony are commonly used words that stigmatize people with mental illness. For me, they’re more reminders of the dark nights of my soul.

Work is crazy. The weather is crazy. That guy drives me nuts. That woman is bananas. C’mon, people! The English language is rich with alternate adjectives.

We need to stop using words that are harmful and make a conscious effort to refrain from using certain language.

Dr. Gail Saltz, psychiatrist and author, shares my beliefs. In her book The Power of Different: The Link Between Disorder and Genius she offers a suggestion to society:

“Stop shaming those who are in the struggle, and banish words such as crazy and nuts from our speech.”

Hurtful words have become common in today’s vernacular. I wish I could change the world, but I can’t. I can, however, make thoughtful word choices in my own speech, and hey, maybe I can influence one or two blog readers to change their way of thinking.