My article is on an incident that I personally experienced that I believe dramatically illustrates US societies attitude toward physical and psychiatric disabilities. It is I confess only one experience. However I believe it is typical of most Americans, if not most people’s thoughts toward visible handicaps and those what are part of a mental illness.
A couple days ago as I was riding on a local Philadelphia public bus a man came on. He was talking rather loudly to himself. At least that’s how it seemed to everybody who noticed him. I include myself too. He appeared if not exactly agitated, somebody who was quite excited. I wouldn’t say he was enthused. There was more a tone of expediency. It was if he was rushing to get his words out. It was like repeated rapid spurts of thoughts rushing from his mouth.
It seemed to me that quite a few people noticed him. Yet they behaved as best they could to seem as if they didn’t. Perhaps it was their uneasiness as expressed by their uptight body language they made me think they weren’t totally ignoring his strange behavior.
As for myself I was conversing with a sweet somewhat elderly woman. We didn’t know each other. Somehow we started talking to each other. I don’t usually talk to strangers on a SEPTA* vehicle. She gave me the impression of friendliness.
Maybe it was her kindly expression that made me feel that way. I found her easy to converse with.
Her blind woman friend was riding with her. Unfortunately the visually impaired woman forgot her handicap card to ride for a reduced rate. The bus driver made her pay the full fare. It was clear by her dark glasses and cane that she suffered from a sight disability. Yet the bus driver still made her pay the regular rate.
The woman sitting next to me, her friend got up and gave the woman a quarter to enable her friend to ride the bus.
She was a quite frail elderly woman. Yet because of the driver’s strict interpretation of the rules, she felt forced to get up to help the situation.
I wonder how many people were sorry for the blind woman. I bet a lot more than were sympathetic toward the man who was talking to himself. Here is a situation where two people who are disabled were in the same vicinity. Yet I am certain if there were people feeling sympathy for either handicapped person it was toward the visually impaired woman
I need to make a confession here. The man I referred to goes to the same voc. rehab program I do. Its a place for mental health consumers. Its called Chestnut Place Club House. The clients are called members. Staff and members are considered equal in control of the institution.
I know this man. He behaves normally on his medication. The fact is the vast majority of the mentally ill are stabilized with treatment and capable of living in society. This day I felt horribly humiliated by him. I was so fearful he’d say Hi Lynda How are you or whatever. Than I figured everybody would know I was diagnosed with a mental illness. By the way the diagnosis is a depressive disorder and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
This is a major difference between living with a psychiatric and physical disability. There as far as I can tell, no shame, no stigma in living with an impairment that effects one physically. Yet when its mental that’s a whole other situation. Yet the truth is both mental and physical illnesses are both illnesses, disabilities. The woman, if anybody noticed was most likely viewed with kindness.
Conversely the man having a dialogue with himself was probably seen as a nuisance. Somebody who was to be shunned, to be ignored as if he was diagnosed with leprosy. The reality is a psychiatric diagnosis should be perceived as subject to as much thoughtfulness to visible disabilities. I sincerely hope this goal will be seen soon.
*SEPTA Southeastern PA Transportation Authority. Phila.PA and suburbs local public transportation system.
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