The importance of a diagnosis

Name it to Tame it
“Label Stigma” is very OLD thinking

© Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC
May is National Mental Health Awareness Month

Will this NEVER die?

Do we “label” eyes brown, green or blue?  Would the color of anybody’s eyes change simply because we don’t put a name to that color for fear of subjecting them to preconceived notions about eyes (or color)?

If some narrow-minded person has a prejudice against people with light eyes, does identifying the color of those eyes as “blue” make the slightest difference what-so-ever?

How about height and weight “labels?”

SURELY nobody really believes that as long as we don’t define size by measurement we can pretend everybody is exactly the same — even though we can easily see that they aren’t.

  • Is there some evolutionary advantage to pretending that identifying certain characteristics specifically isn’t relevant – or important?
  • Does it really change anybody’s self-identity or position in the universe to find out exactly how tall they are?
  • Does it change how we think about our role in the world to know how much we weigh?

And yet . . .

Labelling theory, prominent during the 1960s and 70s, with some modified versions still currently popular, has long asserted the exact opposite.

It postulates that, once “labeled,” individuals are stripped of their old identities as new ones are ascribed to them — and that the process usually leads to internalizing this new identity and social status, taking on some kind of assigned role with its associated set of role expectations.

And society seems to like to go along with this BS!!!

When I look around, the most comprehensive internalization I see is the result of the self-identification with STIGMA.

Out of the fear of having their children “labelled” with a mental illness, too many parents avoid taking their kids for diagnosis and treatment – because they don’t want their children to have to suffer the stigma of a diagnosis.

Out of that same fear, many otherwise sensible adults – who would certainly go for treatment if what they suspected was wrong with them were physical – are leading limp-along lives because they refuse to accept diagnosis and treatment for anything that concerns their mental health.  Few realize that they’ve actually internalized the very stigma they think they are avoiding.

MY point of view

As I see it, the reticence to accept mental health “labels” for fear of pigeon-holing or stereotyping allows society as a whole to remain in serious denial about the crying need to stand up and be counted, joining together to sling a few other labels that desperately need to be slung – like intolerant, bigoted, small-minded, parochial and provincial, to name just a few.

And then there’s the label that is my personal favorite to describe a particular kind of tool I’d like to call a spade: BULLY!

I’m calling out mental health stigma for what it is:

(unless, of course, you want to label it cowardice)

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Isn’t it TIME we ended mental health stigma?

Nearly 44 million American adults, along with millions of children, struggle with “mental health” conditions each year, ranging from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ASD, OCD, PTSD, TBI to ADD/EFD and more.

According to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Health), nearly 1 in 5 adults in the United States have experienced impaired mental health in the last year alone, and 21% of all prisoners have a recent history of a mental health condition.

And I’ll bet you a year’s free coaching that those statistics represent only the tip of the mental health iceberg.

Yes, as President Obama said in his inspiring 2016 Mental Health Awareness Proclamation, “we have made progress expanding mental health coverage and elevating the conversation about mental health.”  Still, too many people with mental illnesses suffer in silence rather than get the help they need.

  • A great many of the remaining individuals afflicted will never seek help because of embarrassment and fear of judgement.
  • Many of those who do seek diagnosis and treatment often keep their condition a well-guarded secret because of the very real fear of negatively impacting the impression of their ability to perform well at a job.
  • Still others will seek out diagnosis but will be afraid to avail themselves of pharmaceutical treatment because of the stigma around “taking the easy way out” by popping a pill!

It seems to me that mental health STIGMA has been allowed to run rampant!

People suffering from even common mental health diagnoses have been put in a position of shame because of their supposed mental “shortcomings” — and every single person who passes on the stigma or fails to call it out as bad, wrong and awful when they witness it has put them there.

  • A person doesn’t change who they are simply because they’ve sought out and accepted a diagnosis that explains some of their challenges . . .

at least not any more than distinguishing that I am someone with brown eyes, a height of five feet, eight inches, and a weight of one hundred and thirty-five pounds means I suddenly must self-identify with a particular group of other 5’8, 135 pound, brown-eyed women.

  • Nor do those distinguishing characteristics necessarily say anything else about the members of my particular group.  We might have practically everything in common or nothing at ALL in common otherwise.
  • The ONLY thing changed by diagnosis is that an individual is finally eligible to begin the process of obtaining effective treatment for whatever it is that is making their life more difficult than it would be otherwise.

When you think about it that way, doesn’t the stigma around the mental health “distinctions” seem outrageously silly?  Because that’s ALL a diagnosis really is — a distinction that helps us separate the screws from the nails so that we can reach for the right tool in the box.

Let’s ALL stop being silly – and band together to END mental health stigma. NOW!

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About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

16 Responses to The importance of a diagnosis

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  5. I fully agree that awareness and education is so vital and necessary. So many people are unaware that they can get help for the way they’re feeling, that it’s not simply just a way of life. As someone who suffered depression for a few years before I realised that it actually was depression, I’m a strong advocate for educating and raising awareness, so we can not only help ourselves, but can spot the warning signs with other people.
    I’ve wrote about education in regards to mental health on my blog, which you can read here->


  6. Dizzy Chick says:

    Well, you tell it like it is don’t ya?

    I’ve been thinking a lot about stigma these days. How negative it can be and how to stop it, but also how a some are a bit too sensitive sometimes.

    Wait! let me explain!!

    I’m talking about the jokes.
    It is stigma to joke around about mental health, for many reasons.
    But when does it go too far?
    Can I joke about my own mental illness?
    Can my husband? Can we joke around together?
    We do and we laugh, but if someone else said some of those things would it be stigma?
    or would it not?

    It’s easy to say, well just don’t joke around, but when we do it makes us feel more in control of what is going on in our heads.

    I know that may sound weird, but when I got to the point I could joke about it and it not hurt my feelings at all, I knew I’d be okay and no matter what kind of stigma is thrown my way I can let it bounce off me.

    So, when my husband jokes about having ADD and suddenly turns his head and says….”oh look shinny” he is showing how he is embracing his ADD and letting others know, yes I have my limits but I’m ok with it.

    I’ve just heard so many people recently have such a hard time about small jokes. I don’t mean people being cruel, or anything like that. I’m talking about small things that people do when they are more comfortable with others.

    I found myself feeling guilty because we were joking around about our illnesses the other day while a friend was here. Why? Because I was afraid it showed ignorance and stigma.

    Okay, so that was kind of out of left field probably, but I hope you get my meaning.

    I’ve had a plethora of stigma thrown my way over the years. I had a family member tell her son that he needed to stay away from me because of my “mental condition”. Heck, most of the stigma I’ve encountered has been from family or other people in the mental health community.

    I’ve always been very open with my diagnosis. At one job we all walked in a mental health walk one year because the job wanted to give to this great cause. Everyone there who had a mental illness felt they could talk about it and get help. It was a great place to work. But it all started because I spoke up about my condition. then someone else said….I deal with this… and the owner’s wife said, yes I have this. We rallied together. It was a very supportive place.

    Not every work environment is like that I know. I just couldn’t work in one where I had to keep my illness quiet. How can I say, “yes I have this and I can still have a life, Look at me. It’s okay to seek out help” If I can’t talk about it, I can’t advocate for it.

    I get a lot of stigma from other mental health patients. Especially about the medications.

    I’ve been told over and over, the meds are your moods then, it isn’t really you….REALLY?
    I hope like hell the real me isn’t the one I know when I’m in the throws of Bipolar depression or mania.

    I’ve been told over and over there are ways to help this without medication. You don’t need that. Medication is way over prescribed. ECT. Why is this coming from the Mental Health community?

    I needed help. I sought out help. I got help. I continue to get help. People should not feel so stigmatized that they don’t feel they can seek help, or get help, or continue to get help. The continuing to get help is often the hardest thing.

    I’m having an up and down day so this comment I’m sure is up and down and strays from the subject. But I know you won’t mind too much that I’m using you as a sounding board.



    • MIND too much? You know I love it when you sounding board off here. 🙂 Your thoughts are always so well considered, Ms. Diz – and the humor points you bring up here are worth reflecting upon. So I have.
      And this is how it looks from here.

      For me, joking about your OWN condition(s) is usually a sign of good mental health. “If we don’t laugh we would go insane,” right?

      Making a joke about mental illness in general – ANY mental illness – usually IS an indication of stigma (almost always, in my opinion) – as is making fun of the mental condition of someone you don’t know.

      So is joining in on the laughter at a joke made at the expense of someone the would-be comedian doesn’t know extremely well – especially in a group situation, and particularly if the “jokester” is the kind of passive/aggressive individual whom you’ve heard accuse someone of having no sense of humor after one of his or her little jabs.

      Inserting mental health “jokes” into speeches or presentations simply to get a laugh is also usually a clear indication of stigma (like the extremely poor taste of supposed educational expert Sir Ken Robinson poking fun at ADD in a poorly researched RSA Animate presentation that was the subject of a prior rant).

      You and your husband already have a private language where humor is welcome. You know what will be received as humorous and what might push a button or two. You also know each other well enough to read each other’s faces, able to back off quickly if you sense that what’s usually funny is not funny TODAY. So that’s clearly NOT Stigma.

      The grey area in between is where it gets dicey.

      Partners in new relationships might assume the right to joke about beloved’s condition as an indication of intimacy. Those attempts at humor aren’t always welcome, but they generally aren’t a clear indication of stigma either (tho’ they just might cool the ardor a bit). HOWEVER, making a joke that a partner has a condition they don’t have, simply because of one behavior or another, usually IS a sign of stigma.

      Making a joke about a colleague – especially in the workplace or in a conference environment – is usually a clear indication of stigma (unless, for example, it happens at something like an ADDA Conference where everybody understands that everybody understands).

      Unless you are in a similar support conference situation, if you wouldn’t make a joke about polio in the same context, it’s pretty safe to say that you are CLEARLY in stigma territory to joke about mental illness or neurological impairment. I was floored when Trump flailed around to mimic a fellow politician with a movement disorder – in particularly poor taste, even for Trump!

      I guess it’s like obscenity and pornography – I can’t always describe them well, but I know them when I run across them.

      This is so long already, let me forgo responding specifically on the rest of your comment other than to say I’m sorry you had to experience ANY insensitivity – and thanks for sharing your experience here.


  7. Here’s my comment saying hello! 🙂 I appreciate the work you’ve put into this post and am grateful for the new insights!


  8. Pingback: The importance of a diagnosis – Kate McClelland

  9. PorterGirl says:

    Great post. I love the analogy of comparing MH ‘labels’ to other personal attributes. If I became a brunette would I be a different person? Of course not – I would just be me with different hair. I very much admire your work. xx

    Liked by 1 person

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