Tag Archives: stigma

Judging a Book by its Cover – Daily Prompt

Today’s Daily Prompt asked: ‘Does it ever make sense to judge a book by its cover – literally or metaphorically? Tell us about a time you did, and whether it was a good decision or not.

Our brains are lazy. Most brains rely heavily on the easiest way to solve any problems at hand. One of the ways they do so is by creating schemas (patterns of thoughts and behaviours that organizes categories of information and the relationships between them). In other words, our brains make associations between thoughts, feelings, people and situations, and then stores those associations so that it will be easier for the brain to recall next time. For instance, we may think that blonde girls are dumb if we have previously met a lot of blonde-haired women with seemingly low-level intelligence (exposure to media, joke books and other people’s opinions also help strengthen this association).

Schemas may help save us some time and may save us from danger, but if we do not challenge them, they can develop into stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination. Not all women with blonde hairs are dumb. Not all people of African descent are athletic. Not all kids with Special Educational Needs have low-intelligence. My point is that our schemas and stereotypes can be wrong and we need to be aware of it.

I have ‘judged a book by its cover’ a lot of times before. In fact, I do it most of the time. When I am walking alone on a dark alley or riding the bus late at night, I keep away from drunks and suspicious-looking people to keep me safe. Is it wrong? Yes, because not all of them are dangerous. But I still do it. I am not sure if I should change that particular reaction, even though I know that I may be wring 99% of the time. What I avoid is passing judgement too quickly in non-threatening situations. I try to keep an open mind everytime. I know that everyone that I meet is fighting a hard battle.









kate murray












Marty Nemko’s Article for People With Asperger’s Syndrome Written with Prejudice

I have recently read an appaling article entitled ‘Helping People with Asperger’s Syndrome or Autism Find Work’ in Psychology Today written by Marty Nemko (click HERE to read the full article). Nemko holds a PhD in Educational Psychology and apparently is named the ‘Best Life Coach’ in San Francisco Bay Area. One may expect that a person with his credentials will be aware of the literature around a topic that he would wish to write about- he holds a doctorate, for crying out loud! In addition, one may also expect that writing about a sensitive issue requires awareness of people’s sensitivity and emotional responses about the topic.

But Marty has proven me wrong. His article was badly written and his insights and ideas were not based on research. For instance, why would he insist that most people with Asperger’s Syndrome prefer to be called ‘Aspies’? Where did he get that from? Even though a lot of people with AS prefer to be called Aspies, I still would not make the claim that Marty has made. He recently wrote an ‘update’ on his original article and claimed that he spoke to many experts, read articles on autism speaks.org and wikipedia. As an academic myself, I cannot help but scratch my head, laugh sarcastically and let out a loud sigh. Most people know about the unreliability nature of Wikipedia, right? It is also worth noting that although Autism Speaks is a big organisation with intentions of helping people in the Autism community, it has also been in the middle of controversies over the past few years.

Marty Nemko’s article has been written in an attempt to give advice to people with Autism and AS who are looking for work. However, his attempts failed miserably. All he did in his article was to highlight their inefficiencies and inadequecies:

“…some lack the wherewithal to get a bus pass, let alone adequately read social cues or the judgment to make timely decisions”

“…often off-putting, for example, long, fast-spoken, disjointed monologues without eye contact and unable to take the perspective of others other than their own, thus may too often offend them. Many are clumsy, with poor eye-hand coordination.They may have such mannerisms as odd posture, arm flapping, and body twisting. They can be socially naïve and unable to recognize humor. Some have unusual habits, for example, even scavenging through garbage cans to bring home used food scraps”

Perhaps even more discouraging, it appears that even when employers are told that most of an Aspie’s salary would be paid by the taxpayer, many would rather pay full-freight for someone who doesn’t have Asperger’s.”

Instead of focusing on what people with Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism cannot do, he should have focused on what they could do. Articles such as Marty’s should never be written as it paints an extremely negative picture and hence could increase the stigma that surrounds Autsim. I urge everyone who are thinking of writing about any topic at all to be extra cautious. Research the topic and be sensitive.

I work very closely with people who are on the spectrum- in classrooms and in other settings. I have seen the range of abilities, interests and expertise that they have. Based on my experience, it is impossible to put them in one single category and hence offer a generic advice on how to help them. Just like people who are not on the spectrum, they need individualised support. Advice should be tailor-made to each individual’s situation. Oh, and one more thing: If nobody is asking for your advice, don’t give it especially if you’re going to put them down!


Stop Fat Shaming

Here is a black and white photograph of a naked overweight woman with the writing “Thank you for hating my body” on the front of her body. This photograph was taken on the blog site tumblr.com.

Nowadays a lot of people think that being fat is bad, regardless of the cause. There is widespread stigmatization of overweight people as being lazy, stupid, jolly (for men), unattractive, sick, and many others. Such negativity towards overweight people can be seen all over the media. TV programmes in channels such as Nickolodeon and Disney, which are aimed at children and teenagers, all have skinny protagonists. Most of today’s popular singers, actresses, actors and models are skinny. Even news presenters on TV (I only watch BBC news) are fit and slim. Because of these, negative attitudes toward people who are overweight are reinforced, and are mostly turned into hatred against them. These are probably the reason why this picture was taken.

It is noticable that the woman on the photograph does not look happy. The way that the slogan is written on her naked body and not on clothes is probably a way of telling people that she knows she’s overweight and she knows that because of this, people hate her. By writting THANK YOU FOR HATING MY BODY suggests that she assumes that people automatically pass judgement on her based on her weight and not on her whole personality. She also did not specify who hates her. The message is clearly for everyone- for people of all ages, sexual orientation, ethnicity and culture. The picture is in black and white, not in technicolour, which probably suggests that she feels the stereotype is a known fact to everyone.

Stop fat-shaming. Victims can be traumatized, develop depression, self-harm or commit suicide. Fat-shaming does not help. It makes matters worse. Stop it. Accept people for who they are. Nobody’s perfect now or ever. Why can’t we find the goodness in people?

Does Homeland address Mental Health Awareness responsibly?


Homeland is one of the most popular TV shows in America and is getting more and more popular around the world. In 2012, it has won 6 Emmys including best lead actor (Damien Lewis) and lead actress (Claire Danes) in a drama series, 2 Golden Globes and many more. Recently, it was awarded the best drama, best actor (Damien Lewis) and best actress (Claire Danes) at the 2013 Golden Globe awards.

If you have not watched it or at least heard about it (were you hiding in a hole somewhere?), Homeland is a drama series about Carrie, a CIA agent (Claire Danes) who believes that Nicholas Brody, an ex-prisoner of war (Damien Lewis), is a converted terrorist and is planning an attack on American soil. Despite Carrie’s brilliance, her colleagues do not always trust her decisions because of her unorthodox ways of working.

What is more interesting (for me, at least) is the fact that Carrie is suffering from bipolar disorder (Manic Depressive Disorder). In the first series, she tried to conceal her illness from her work colleagues because she is afraid that her colleagues will lose their trust on her, or worse, she could lose her job. She gets her medication from her sister, Maggie, who is a trained and practicing psychiatrist. Maggie issues Carrie pills ‘under-the-table’, and these pills seem to manage Carrie’s condition.

Many have weighed-in about Homeland’s portrayal of bipolar disorder, with some applauding it’s bold yet sensitive writing while some claim that the show’s representation is irresponsible. Negative points stem from the fact that Carrie is being treated secretly and unofficially, which could encourage the public to do the same. Additionally, some argue that Carrie’s high level of intelligence, confidence and success paint a wrong representation of people with bipolar disorder.

In my opinion, Homeland’s creators, writers and indeed, Claire Danes, are doing a magnificent job. Firstly, they have a person with psychiatric condition at the centre of the show and as a protagonist. Normally, characters with psychiatric conditions are portrayed as bad/evil (SEE MY ARTICLE ABOUT BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT). It is somewhat refreshing to see someone like Carrie being the centre of the plot. Secondly, the programme shows both the highs and the lows that a person with bipolar disorder might experience. Carrie is known to be a ‘genius’ in her own right in what she does. However, her behaviours are somewhat erratic and she has the tendency to break down if pushed too much.

It is important to note that Carrie’s case is an extreme one. Not everyone who has MDD is a genius like Carrie and not everyone’s situation can be managed by pills, just like Carrie. However, her situation is representative of what people with mental illnesses go through everyday. Over 60% of women employed in the United Kingdom are living with a mental illness. These people try their hardest to manage the stresses and strains of each working day, just like Carrie. However, they are all not CIA/MI5 agents like her. They are teachers, shop assistants, doctors, nurses and lawyers, trying to function well in this society. Nevertheless, we need to understand them and give them the right support to flourish.

Homeland also brings about the existing stigma about people with mental illnesses. As mentioned, Carrie did not conceal her illness to her work colleagues until the end of the first series, because she was afraid that she could lose her job (which she did in the end of the first series) and the trust of her colleagues. Unfortunately, this reflects much of what is going in the ‘real world’. A lot of workers hide their mental illness, and are scared to ask for help because of the stigma- which should not be the case. Workers are protected by the Equality Act 2010 which states that:

“…most employers have no right to ask for information about your health when recruiting. However, in an interview, they can ask whether you have the ability to do key elements of the job. There is also a specific exception in vetting applicants for work in national security such as intelligence services. If your mental illness has lasted 12 months or more you are likely to have rights as an employee under the Equality Act. Telling your boss, occupational health or human resources department will mean your employer is obliged to consider making ‘reasonable adjustments’ to your working life to help keep you well. You can ask them not to tell colleagues, but they may need to tell the human resources department.”

I feel that the inclusion of this issue in a well-known show like Homeland may increase people’s awareness of it. Hopefully, it will result in more people opening up to their significant others and it may also increase people’s understanding of mental health. One criticism that I have though, is that in the show, Carrie has not received any other psychological treatments apart from medication, although in the end of the first series, she underwent Electro-convulsive Therapy (ECT). Although ECT is still a controversial treatment, there are studies that have shown that it can be effective. Cognitive-behavioural therapies (CBT) coupled with the right medication has been shown to be the best treatment for people with bipolar.

Finally, the best thing about the show is that Carrie does not let her condition define her. She struggles with it at times, but she copes with it. She does not use it as an excuse forany bad things that happened to her.