This Politician Wants People With Mental Health Issues to Label Themselves With Wristbands

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Approximately 1 in 4 people will battle some type of mental disorder at some point in their life, but despite its prevalence, stigmas surrounding mental health are still one of the biggest challenges they'll face. Unfortunately, it's a problem still lost on many.

Parliamentary candidate Chamali Fernando for the Conservative Party in the U.K. said Monday in a debate that mentally ill people should wear identifying wristbands with different colors signifying different illnesses, reports the Independent. Fernando offered the suggestion as a way for law enforcement to more effectively communicate with mentally ill citizens who either break or don't understand the law.

Though Fernando is only a candidate for election, some are already raising concerns over what this kind of statement during her campaign could mean for her platforms should she win office.

The response: Perhaps unsurprisingly, there has already been a backlash against Fernando's plan from fellow politicians and concerned citizens alike.

"The Liberal Democrats have spent many years campaigning for an end to the stigma around mental health," Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the Daily Mail. "Silly ideas like making people suffering from mental health issues wear wristbands would only increase the discrimination and stigma around mental health, rather than end it."

A petition calling for Fernando to stand down has been posted on Change.org, arguing, "This is not only degrading, dehumanizing and insulting to those suffering from mental illness, it shows nothing but ignorance towards understanding mental health and breaking the stigma behind it that is still very much an issue."

While public outrage offers some solace in the face of mental illness discrimination, it concerns many that this has even entered the political discourse, perhaps signifying the extent to which stigma and shame still plague those who battle mental illness.

The problem with stigma. No other illness is stigmatized like mental illness. Generally, the primary battle for an individual with an ailment is the ailment itself. But people with mental illness must deal with shame, often trying to conceal their illness as well as deal with it. 

A paper in World Psychiatry argues that dealing with the concomitant symptoms and disabilities is enough of a challenge, but people with mental illness are "challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. As a result of both, people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality life: good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care and affiliation with a diverse group of people." 

While Fernando's comments indicate that social stigma remains alive and well, it speaks to a bigger problem at play of how people collectively discuss mental disorders. 

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"People with mental illness suffer enough without being stigmatized further. Yes, I think we should be more open when it comes to talking about it in society, but not in this way, which alienates those who instead should be getting our support," Ann Duncan, Green Party Parliamentary candidate for Oxford East, told Mic.

Labeling different demographics is dangerous precedent. One of the first and most harrowing examples of singling out different types of people is from Nazi Germany, where they made its Jewish citizens wear gold stars.

Even the less formalized practice of labeling people has often led to acts of violence or discrimination, such as the Pakistani boy who was burned Friday for answering "yes" to the question of whether he was Christian.

Defining people in such a one-dimensional way, based off one characteristic or feature, is a sign of regression and oppression. Those societies that thrive tend to treat their citizens equally, rather than defining and subsequently altering the treatment of them because of the presence of a gene.

Correction: April 15, 2015
An earlier version of this article conflated intellectual disabilities with mental illness by using the term "mental disabilities" to describe the latter.