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“Mental Illness” Stigma Within the Occupy Movement

To “The Richmonder” in response to “Why Occupy Richmond Failed,” specifically the following:

“[The] inability to make key decisions within a reasonable amount of time was one of the factors that would ultimately doom the group’s occupation of Kanawha Plaza.
The other factor was the presence within the group of certain individuals who exhibited signs of mental illness, including paranoia and various cognitive disorders. Although these people were only a tiny fraction of those involved with Occupy Richmond, they would exercise a disproportionate influence on its fate.”

“Ultimately Occupy Richmond failed because it was unable to act as quickly as its most paranoid and delusional hangers-on were able to act.”

“Before Occupy Richmond could act, others acted for them. One delusional individual took it upon himself to contact the Richmond Police, including senior police officers, and began to issue “orders” to the police, declaring himself their superior by virtue of his citizenship and generally holding himself out to the police as the group’s spokesperson. On Monday, October 24, 2011, Richmond City Council met and one of the issues they discussed was what the city should do about the Occupy Richmond encampment. I watched that meeting on local access television and I was surprised to see a second person who appeared to be mentally ill denouncing city council on behalf of Occupy Richmond. No other genuine representative of Occupy Richmond attended the meeting, so City Council drew its conclusions about the group largely based on the words and actions of a single individual who was not authorized to speak on their behalf.”

I am a member of a mental health community support network, mental health advocate, and someone who works daily towards destigmatizing “mental illness.” I have also been and continue to be involved in Occupy Richmond. Our group has brought peer support to the occupation when it was present in Kanawa Plaza. We offer our weekly peer support groups up to be open to the participants of Occupy, as well as the Richmond community at large. While reading your article I could not help but notice how you have almost demonized those two folks that you purport are or appear to be “mentally ill.”

From the very beginning I had concerns about how people were handling their frustrations with one of the folks you speak of. I was very hesitant to come out to the occupation at first because I watched the first GA meeting video and was really bothered by how people were not letting him talk, were talking over him, and were basically disregarding everything he was saying. There have also been many direct character attacks against him.

I asked for someone to please explain to me in non-judgmental language and objectively why he was being ostracized from this group, as I had not been involved since the beginning to know what exactly had occurred. The feedback I received is that he is difficult to work with; that there are a lot of hard feelings from the past involved in current opinions, behavior, and how people are treating him; and he stepped outside of the group’s process and took it upon himself to speak for the group without the group’s input.

There is concern that he may have a psychiatric diagnosis because of his feeling like everyone is “out to get him” and therefore becoming very defensive because of it. I understand that people have concerns with this person, and may have concerns with others because of their behavior being “abnormal” or their thoughts and feelings seemingly “odd,” “erratic,” “irrational,” or “crazy.” I am also concerned; I am concerned on other things as well, not only his behavior. Regardless if these folks have their mental health concerns specifically diagnosed or not, I feel that this man’s reactions in certain situations, such as mentioned that people are conspiring against him, are of real concern for him. Even though these concerns may be irrational (even in his own eyes) they may definitely be causing him real emotional pain and anguish.

I think as a movement and as a group coming together in solidarity we must acknowledge these feelings he has while also ensuring him (if it is true) that people are indeed not conspiring against him. I do not feel it is necessary to make him feel ostracized, demonized, or anything of the sort. We wish for solidarity and to thwart discrimination, and this includes people with mental health concerns. Many people have difficulties interacting with others tactfully even without altered emotional or mental states.

I sense that people are putting him in the “he’s crazy” box and hoping he’ll just go away. My interpretation is that people are hesitant to talk to him about their concerns because he tends to get defensive. Just because he is difficult to deal with does not make how people are treating him okay. This doesn’t say his behavior is okay, either.

Everyone’s voices should be heard and given equal time and consideration if we are to all work towards change. Yes, it is difficult, but we must try. I do not know much, personally, about this man, but it really breaks my heart to see anyone being stigmatized for their emotional concerns. I hate to throw around -isms, but this feels like psychological ableism.

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Discovered in the disclaimer on the above site: “Comments for this blog are moderated. Comments may be rejected for any of the following reasons: falsehoods, defamation, personal attacks, excessive profanity, obvious mental illness, and purely at the whim of the owner of this blog. A good guideline would be a letter to the editor of the Richmond Times Dispatch: if you don’t think a newspaper would print your comment, then it’s a pretty safe bet I won’t either.”

What does this person have against people with mental health concerns?

*We will post updates here as they happen. We welcome constructive feedback and open dialogue about this topic. To prevent anonymous flame wars and trolling, comments are disabled. Please send us your comments at mindfulliberationproject@gmail.com

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