As I (ahem) expected, I got a few letters from readers about last week’s story about the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill’s successful campaign to get Sears to stop selling a T-shirt. It reads:
“You Should Hear the NAMES the VOICES in my Head are Calling You.”
But the nature of the letters weren’t what I expected — no one was mad! (Er… angry.)
NAMI had objected on the grounds that the shirts “reinforce an unfair perception of violence.” In my tagline I retorted, “Why assume the ‘names’ are violent, rather than ‘honey’ or ‘sweetie’? Maybe they’re paranoid?”
Richard, a doctor in Maryland, wrote:
I would like to object to your response to the NAMI complaint to Sears about the T-shirt. I know the idea of suing Sears for offensive T-shirts they sell is foolish, the drive to make it impolite to make fun of handicapped people is morally correct. Schizophrenia is a debilitating illness which is not funny to the people who experience it, either directly or by watching their loved ones go through it. Reminding Sears that they needn’t abet immoral behavior is not political correctness, in my opinion.
My point — that one does not have to assume violence is the only reaction a person with mental illness could have to voices — is extremely valid, and I’m surprised anyone would disagree with it. They clearly stated that the T-shirt could only mean that.
I’ll use their words: “They [the shirts] reinforce an unfair perception of violence.”
It is similarly “morally correct” (uh oh; this isn’t the beginning of the “MC Movement” is it?) not to “enjoy” it when people get hit by cars, but didn’t you get a certain satisfaction when you read the story this week about the bank robber getting run over? Yeah, I thought so.
In contrast, I got several letters like this one from Laura (who, strangely, is also in Maryland):
I read your bit about the aura of discrimination about some t-shirts at Sears, and I think this is a riot. I have bipolar disorder, and have had episodes in the past where I have heard voices. What is even more depressing is that an organization like the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill is too busy scanning malls for silly t-shirts to notice the real problems. My biggest problem is discrimination, not by people wearing t-shirts with dumb slogans, but by my insurance company. I am legally disabled by my disease, but I have exhausted my ‘6 lifetime visits’ to my psychiatrist. I am no longer covered for my psychiatric illness. Can you imagine them saying that to someone with diabetes or cancer, ‘oh, six visits are up, you are on your own now.’? Maybe groups like NAMI should be redirecting their energies toward making insurers responsible for providing equal coverage for ALL types of illnesses so people like me (and many others I know) won’t fall through the cracks.
I want to be a good mom for my daughter, and I fear what would happen when I can’t afford to see my doctor. Banning a t-shirt isn’t going to help me or others like me. Plus, I think the shirt is funny. I want to get it and wear it to my next appointment with my shrink.
But Maybe Laura is a One-Off?
Not even. Loren in Wisconsin agrees:
I have Bipolar Disorder (Type 1 w/numerous add-ons/variances), and it has played hell with my life in many ways over my 39 years; but thank the Godz it has never once ever caused me to lose my ability to joke about my condition(s) or those of others when appropriate. NAMI has been going further off the deep-end of political horsehooey for a few years now. Haranguing people to not make jokes about mental illness will not stop people from getting ineffective treatment [or encourage] compassion from the medical community or society at large. Since I have an official diagnosis of having a ‘mental disorder’, I defy anyone to tell me that I can’t refer to myself as nutso when I want to. Keep at ’em, bud!
Bottom line: Don’t presume to speak for those who are fully capable of speaking for themselves.
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