By Christian Ducasse
translation by Valérie Fauteux
I love blue canvases. « I can’t help it; it’s my favorite colour. »
« Look » is defined as one’s manner of looking at an object so as to see it.
I have been juggling words and images to write my article. I’d like to discuss the stigma attached to users of mental health services, social exclusion, labels, prejudices, ignorance. Stigmatization implies judgment, condemnation, opinions which are often unjust, usually inaccurate, sometimes final, but most of the time, belittling.
For two weeks, I have been confronted with situations in which I see my fellow human beings express opinions or exhibit behavior full of prejudice towards people, like myself, who are labeled mentally ill.
Last week, a visitor made an official visit to our center.
A respectable man, full of good intentions, he was very impressed by my rehabilitation activities at
Wellington Center in
Verdun. Then I realized why he was so impressed and noticed he spoke to me as one would speak to a child. I believe that the man think that our center is so very welcoming to its « intellectually handicapped » users, he allowed. In fact, our meeting place is intended for people who have been mentally ill or have a current mental health problem, not specificly intellectually handicapped people; it also includes those who have experienced symptoms and become well again with the help of the center’s staff and users.
Later, a local restaurant owner was quite surprised. « You are a member of Wellington Center. You function well, like a normal person, not a psych patient. » He means that I look normal. These days, who is completely normal ?
Lastly, I spoke with a person from our institution about stigmatization in mental illness. She quickly mentions a current situation which is foreign to her and hard to understand. A mental health professional in a hospital with a specialisation in mental illness refuses a request from a member of the Wellington Center to visit a patient at the hospital, even though the latter is stable and independent. The reason given is that a Wellington Center user is like a patient at the hospital. I believe that our user might not be responsible enough, stable enough, normal enough or what have you, to visit a friend who is hospitalized.
My interlocutor points out that even the hospital staff discriminate against and stigmatize Wellington Center participants. Therefore one shouldn’t be surprised that other less well informed individuals in our community label, stigmatize and discriminate against users of mental health services.
Yesterday, my eyes were opened. We proceeded to hang 41 works of art on the center’s walls. Throughout the month of June, Room 107 is exhibiting the art work of my friends, the Inpatients of Verdun’s Wellington Center. These are drawings and paintings done by my companions at work and in other activities.
When i looked at the exhibit, i felt renewed, privileged and even blessed (ok, I exaggerate.) Yes, I saw beautiful things! I was charmed by my friends’ works, especially those in blue (can’t help it, it’s my favorite color). Each one was pretty, but collectively, they were charming, powerful and full of remarkable poetry.
In one stroke of my pen, I re-labeled my companions at our center: users of mental health services are now artists, artisans, creators of beauty; they are attractive and talented and have something to express—full-fledged citizens!
I am in love with them now (ok, I exaggerate.) Sing along the Roger Whittaker song, if you wish: « Tous les amoureux du monde ont les yeux bleus; one can see a blue sky in the eyes of someone in love. Look at this picture...not a cloud in the sky. All the world’s lovers have blue eyes. » What can I say? It’s my favorite colour.