If you regularly keep up to date with issues relating to mental health in the news it’s likely you’ve already been confronted by the article published in The Guardian on the 25th of October.
If not, here is the basic rundown. The article “Personality Disorders at Work: how to spot them and what you can do”, written by clinical psychologist Dr Mary Lamia encourages a stigmatised view towards the mentally ill. The article briefly compares people with personality disorders to psychopaths before moving onto generalisations and inaccurate information. We’ll test you, manipulate you, have uncontrollable outbursts and basically just make your life miserable.
Let me tell you about me at work. I’m a teacher of young adults (16-18 years olds) and my students often tell me that I’m one of their favourite teachers, that they can’t imagine me being angry with them and they feel like they can talk to me. My supervisor frequently tells me how happy she is with my work. Generally, praise makes me very uneasy; I feel like I’ve tricked people into thinking well of me and that I’m not deserving of their kind words. I constantly beat myself up when I make a mistake and I am definitely not the only person with BPD who is like this: we do not need anyone else to do it for us.
Even though I was only diagnosed this year I’ve had plenty of experience with stigma firsthand, often from those I considered closest to me. While encouraging people to think ill of their colleagues because they have a personality disorder is immoral and it is even more despicable to encourage people to diagnose from behind their desks as a pastime.
Needless to say, I had a few things to say to The Guardian regarding their article and I wanted to share my letter to them here:
To whom it may concern,
I’ve been a long time reader and as a teacher of young adults I often recommend The Guardian to my students for a good source of unbiased news.
I have previously considered becoming a supporter, it’s really good that you give readers an option rather than restricting their access to news.
However, I have just seen something highly distressing. You see, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder earlier this year. It’s been tough, but with the support of my partner and my family I’ve made a lot of progress and have been paying less mind to all of the hyper-negative stigma that’s splashed on the most vile Subreddits and cesspools of the internet.
Your decision to further indulge this highly stigmatised viewpoint and attack the mentally ill by publishing “Personality disorder at work: how to spot them and what you can do” is highly distressing and shocking. Not only is it highly offensive, it contains many inaccuracies. I am in an okay place at the moment and have made a lot of progress on my recovery, but there are times when reading something like this from my most trusted source of ‘news’ would have done some pretty serious damage. I am sure there are people who are not okay and are having a reaction which goes beyond outrage right now.
Searching for this article today I was redirected to a “since you’re here, wanna give us some cash?” fill-in; oddly enough I’ve decided not to take you up on that.
I look forward to seeing a consistent commitment to quality journalism from you in the future.
As disappointing as the publication of this article has been, I’m pleased to say that I have not seen any responses to it which encourage this way of thinking. Many individuals have spoken up about how absurd they find, not only The Guardian’s decision to give such an ignorant piece a platform, but the enduring negativity towards the mentally ill community.
The Irish Post discussed this piece briefly and included a collection of Twitter responses which denounce Dr Mary Lamia’s viewpoint with outrage and satire. Maggie van Eijk discusses her strategies for dealing with her BPD in the workplace with a thoughtful opinion piece, highlighting the role of supportive colleagues. Clara Bridges, author of popular BPD Blog Life in a Bind beautifully articulated the dangers of this article and the harmful impact that generalisations of mental health issues can have on our community: I strongly recommend reading her article on Welldoing.org.
It is really valuable to those of us with personality disorders to have these positive voices to help drown out all of the negativity and ignorance, but as Dr Mary Lamia has shown us, there’s still a lot of work to do before people living with mental illnesses can live in a safe, stigma free world.