Tag Archives: Equality

E – #AtoZChallenge on Mental Health

Welcome to the #AtoZChallenge on mental health, letter E. This is one of the harder letters. However, I still was able to come up with several words for discussion.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, which include anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and unspecified eating disorders, are among hte deadliest mental illnesses. This is not just because of the physical effects eating disorders have on their sufferers, but also because people with eating disorders are particularly likely to be suicidal. For clarity’s sake: you can’t tell whether someone has an eating disorder by looking at them, because people of any size can have eating disorders. The core of eating disorders is also often not about what or how much one eats, but about one’s thoughts regarding oneself and one’s eating habits.


Emotions are an essential part of human experience. They are often affected by mental illness. An emotion is different from a mood, in that emotions last for a short while whereas moods describe one’s overall affective state over a longer period of time.


Disabled people, including mentally ill people (yes, mental illness is a disability!), make up the largest minority in the United States and probably elsewhere too. The fight for equality for people with mental illness was started in the 1970s with the antipsychiatry mvement. However, you don’t have to believe that mental illness is a social construct to want equality for mentally ill people nowadays.


I was inspired to share about experience when someone commented on
another post in the challenge that few mental health professionals have been on the other side of the desk. In the Netherlands, many mental health agencies employ “experience workers”, which are people with a (history of) mental illness who have had additional training in using their experience in the support of other people with a mental illness. Most assertive commnity treatment teams, which are intensive outpatient treatment teams for people with severe mental illness, employ such experience workers. The education of experience workers used to be mostly informal, but now there is even a full college track in social work with mental health experience.


Inclusion vs. Insertion or Integration

On a post on disability acceptance, someone commented that insertion is not the same as inclusion. This means that putting disabled people in mainstream classrooms, in the community, etc., does not automatically lead to them being accepted into that comunity. In this sense, there are parallels to the racial and gender equality movement, but there are also differences. The parallel involves the fact that, just because for example African-Americans were finally legally allowed to sit in the front of the bus in the 1960s, doesn’t mean they weren’t bullied into the back anymore. The difference, which to soe extent applied to certain groups of ethnic minorities too, is the need for accommodations to be made to fully include disabled people.

There is another word that is frequently used in disability situations and which is commonly used for ethnic minorites: integration. Integration involves not just insertion, but the expectation on the part of the majority that the ethnic minority or disabled person adapt to the majority. In a sense, this is somewhat opposite to inclusion, where the majority makes reasonable accommodations for the minority. It is also contrary to acceptance, because, while the majority tolerate the minority once integrated, they won’t accept them the if they don’t meet up to the cultural norms of the majority.

I have often struggled with the social model of disability, because it to some extent ignores the fact that disable dpeople aren’t just as capable as everybody else – an argument used by the women’s and African-American civil rights movements to claim equal rights. With equal rights, after all, come equal responsibilities. To draw a parallel to ethnic minorities again, immigrants to the Netherlands are themselves responsible for making sure they learn Dutch civics and language. I do not personally agree with this, but it is reasonable from a conservative, small government perspective, which is currently holding the majority here. Is it unreasonable then to insist that a person with a disability put every effort into becoming as non-disabled as possible? My heart says it’s unreasonable, but my head is having a hard tiem finding arguments for it.

Excusing or Accepting

Many of the people who commented on my previous post, most of them likely unfamiliar with disability rights, commented on a particular part of it: that in which I talked about disabled people being carelessly excused from meeting normal expectations. While it is true that a disabiity in itself should not be a reason to excuse people, in the sense that people think of the disabled as pitifu and therefre to be excused, disability equality goes far beyond equal expectations. Actually, unless a disabled person commits a crime, they are entitled to the same civil rights and inclusion that abled people are. “Normal”, that is, non-disabled standards of performance should not be relevant here.

People have a right to acceptance, and, while this means they should be expected to behave in an acceptable manner, what this means is really up for debate. Is an autistic not acceptable because they scream? An effort should of course be made to help the autistic unlearn this behavior, but if they can’t, that doesn’t make them less acceptable as a person.

We need to make the distinction here between the behavior and the person. All people have some annoying behaviors that are unacceptable to at least a number of others. We can disapprove of this behavior, but we shouldn’t be excluding the person for this. Note, please, that my comment about annoying behavior goes for disabled as well as non-disabled people. Once a person has a disability, however, accepting them in spite of inappropriate behavior is often seen as excusing.