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Professional Stigma Fails to Recognize Individual Disabilities

Posted November 10, 2011

In a Letter to the Editor on October 31, 2011, a reader referenced a Columbus Dispatch article, “Disabled Teens Find Guidance” as informative but noted that the article “belittled” an option for people whose disability is more severe than those profiled in the article. In her letter, the mother pointed out that the unfortunate reference to “idle or stuck in a sheltered workshop” was a put-down of an option and the people who need and use that option. The mother concluded her letter by saying, “All disabled people are not the same.  They have varied abilities.  There are people such as my daughter who find the sheltered workshop the perfect option.”

This letter hit home with those of us who have worked on behalf of families and individuals who live with chronic and persistent mental illness. Many of our loved ones with severe and persistent mental illness are continually winding up in nursing homes, jails, prisons or on the streets rather than in sheltered workshop-like programs that are suitable for those who cannot achieve what the system considers full recovery.

For years, families and individuals have struggled with professional stigma.  Does the fact that a person no longer lives with daily delusions and is able to live happily in a supervised environment but unable to hold down a job mean that a person is not in recovery?  Because that person requires more daily assistance does not mean the person has not achieved their own level of recovery.

It is time to discuss the need for a community support system that meets the needs of Ohio citizens living with these severe illnesses. Families are fed up with the professional stigma in the mental health community that fails to see the person as an individual thereby limiting the options available to their loved ones.