Wristbands for the mentally ill?!

My timeline on Twitter has been overrun with people who are outraged by a statement made by a Tory candidate standing in Cambridge, Chamali Fernando. In a local hustings she suggested that those with mental health problems should wear wristbands, colour coded by diagnosis. 

That sentence alone breeds all sorts of judgements and evokes all kinds of responses – how dare she? Does she understand how stigmatising it is? Etc. And I get it, I totally get it. I understand the reaction that was seen across Twitter and the media. But how good is the media at twisting things? I read the headlines and laughed, saying I’d wear mine with pride as I see no reason to be ashamed of my mental health. As I read the article however, and found out the context of her suggestions, it made a little more sense. 

The comments were made in the context of (from what I can gather) crisis care. More specifically, crises resulting in police attendance and potentially a s135/136. She said that perhaps it would help the emergency services and the professionals to know what a persons diagnosis is, if they had one and for some reason couldn’t let the staff know, in order to give appropriate help. When in context, the statement seems less outrageous. And from my dealings with the police, it seems that for quite a few staff the only mental health problems they know of are schizophrenia and depression. I have had countless conversations in crisis with the police which pretty much go along the lines of:

So are you hearing voices? No. Are you sure? Yes. Are you seeing things?? No. Are you depressed? No. So… What’s wrong with you?

That’s by no means a dig at the police, I think that for a lot of the general population the response would be the same. But in times when I’ve not been able to communicate, perhaps something written down would have helped. I’m not saying a wristband, and I’m not suggesting I carry my notes around just in case I get 136’d and want the police to have a bit of an understanding. It is perfectly normal for people with physical illnesses/allergies etc to wear a medical wristband in case of emergencies where they are not able to inform people themselves. We would never think of that as stigmatising.

But I can see where the logic was behind the comments. I think that we have done a great job of only seeing what the media say and of jumping on the sensationalist bandwagon that is rolled out every so often. While I think that the comments could have been thought out a little better and can completely see where the rallying calls of “this is so stigmatising!!!!! Stand down!!!! You don’t understand the plight!!!!” have come from, as it was my initial reaction too, take a step back. Sometimes we say tasteless things. This wasn’t a new election pledge, or a 50 page document on why we should have these wristbands, it was a comment that could have been put across differently. 


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