I currently work, as a social work intern, at Legal Aid Society (LAS). LAS is a non-profit public defender agency (AKA law firm). Here is their mission:
The Legal Aid Society is a private, not-for-profit legal services organization, the oldest and largest in the nation, dedicated since 1876 to providing quality legal representation to low-income New Yorkers. It is dedicated to one simple but powerful belief: that no New Yorker should be denied access to justice because of poverty.
The Society handles 300,000 individual cases and matters annually and provides a comprehensive range of legal services in three areas: the Civil, Criminal and Juvenile Rights Practices. Unlike the Society’s Criminal and Juvenile Rights Practices, which are constitutionally mandated and supported by government, the Civil Practice relies heavily on private contributions.
My fancy intern cubicle opens to a main hallway where everyone seems to like to chat. Maybe it’s because it’s between the kitchen and the bathrooms….? Earlier today I head two attorneys walking by while in conversation, nothing new. They stopped just out of sight and I heard one of the attorneys state
“My schizophrenic! Who beat the nurse.”
Then the conversation continued but I didn’t catch much more of it because I had quickly grabbed a piece of scrap paper to write that one quote down so I would remember to blog about it.
“My schizophrenic.” My schizophrenic!? Really!? We have taken the person out of it completely and on top of that they are YOUR’s. Just wildly insensitive. But I suppose these things may slip when making a joke or a point. Unfortunately this client was entirely defined by the mental illness they may have been diagnosed with AND the negative behavior they took part in that may or may not have been related to that mental health diagnosis.
Now I am making the assumption that the “schizophrenic” in question is a LAS client and that this attorney has been representing this individual. I find it a little unnerving that the person paid to “defend” me would talk about me to colleagues in such a way. Perhaps the attorney will still do an awesome job on behalf of his client but as an outsider I was caught off guard.
The unfortunate thing is that we tend to define people by their illnesses or the aspects of their identities that may set them apart, sometimes the illness is not considered an illness by everyone. I don’t think I have heard of an instance when a Doctor has referred to their patient as “My cancer” or “My flu.” Although due to my extensive experience in the medical field (AKA watching Grey’s Anatomy) I do know that surgeons may refer to their patients as the procedures they are about to have or have had such as “My appendectomy” or “My tumor removal.”
So this issue of taking the PERSON out of it is not unique to mental health but I fear it is more rampant there. “My schizophrenic,” “I work with schizophrenics,” “I work with bi polar adults,” etc. I believe this is something most if not all people are guilty of whether it is in regards to mental illness or something else.