Many institutions chide pro-turnout campaign for using mental illness stereotypes
The Commissioner for Human Rights "strenuously objects to launching pro-turnout campaigns based on stereotypes of groups vulnerable to discrimination, including people with mental disorders," - Adam Bodnar wrote in a statement regarding the "Don't go grazy and vote" campaign. The action was also criticised by the Commissioner for Patients' Rights, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights and the Polish Psychiatric Association.
The campaign "Don't go crazy and vote" involves famous personalities such as actors, as well as anonymous social media users, posting short videos hashtagged #nieświrujidźnawybory in which they encourage viewers to take part in the parliamentary election on October 13. Legendary Polish actors such as Janusz Gajos and Wojciech Pszoniak took part in the campaign.
"The Commissioner for Human Rights , as a constitutional body safeguarding human rights, expresses its support for initiatives promoting participation in the upcoming parliamentary election. Beyond any doubts, such initiatives help in creating a civic society. However, the Commissioner strenuously objects to launching pro-turnout campaigns based on stereotypes of groups vulnerable to discrimination, including people with mental disorders," - the Commissioner for Human Rights (RPO), Adam Bodnar wrote in a statement.
Bodnar stressed that people with disabilities are one of the groups particularly vulnerable to social exclusion. Among them, in a relatively worst situation are people with mental illnesses. Bodnar underlined that those people face rejection both in private and public life.
"Spreading harmful stereotypes of people with mental disorders clearly affects their situation, for instance, in a job market, which results in them being pushed on the margins of the society," Bodnar said.
The RPO reminded that many times had he stressed the importance of using language free of stereotypes and prejudice against mentally ill.
"The language used to describe people with mental disorders or disabilities should serve social inclusion and fighting negative stereotypes, and not deepen their discrimination," Bodnar underscored.
In the commissioner's view, "the language used in regard to members of groups vulnerable to discrimination invariably mirrors the level of public debate of a democratic state, and overstepping it at the cost of mentally ill is a particular kind of radicalism in public debate".
The General Board of the Polish Psychiatric Association also commented on the campaign. In a stetement published at its website, the Association stressed that it safeguards respect for the rights and dignity of people with mental illnesses. "The General Board of the Polish Psychiatric Association objects against any attempts, conscious or unconscious, to stigmatise these people. They are not different people - together we form the society," the statement reads.
"Suffering, needs, life struggles that we all experience, deserve respect. Division into people with mental disorders and those without is deeply untrue. We all may find ourselves in need of help - after losing someone close, losing job, due to accident, illness, aging, or when all of the sudden our child will require help. Spreading harmful stereotypes may hinder the overcoming of mental illness," the association wrote.
They called for "consideration and respect for dignity of people suffering from mental illnesses". "People we know often face them, as do we and our relatives. We all expect or may one day expect understanding, kindness and support, rather than mockery," they appealed.
Commenting on the campaign, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights called for "not using prejudice that negatively portrays people with illnesses or disabilities".
"We would like underscore that social campaigns should have inclusive character, respecting dignity of people with disabilities. Such actions cannot stigmatise anyone. Using language free of stereotypes attests the maturity of a democratic society, which accepts all groups that it's composed of," the foundation wrote.
The statement also reads that the foundation supports actions promoting participation in elections, calling it "an important civil right of all people, including those with disabilites".
"Respect for others"
The Commissioner for Patients' Rights Bartłomiej Chmielowiec wrote that he had learned about the "Don't go crazy and vote" campaign with great concern and disappointment.
Chmielowiec argued that negative, stigmatising messages may be detrimental to the situation of people suffering from mental health problems. They may also, in his opinion, delay search for help or start of necessary therapy. Moreover, he added, they may intensify negative attitudes of others and incomprehension of this sort of problems at home, school or work.
He pointed out that the commissioner's office had made 2019 the year of patients with mental disorders, under the motto "Commissioner for Patients' Rights - spokesperson for Polish psychiatry", and organised conferences and educational projects.
"Even the best prepared and carried out actions won't help as long as they are sabotaged by irresponsible and harmful public appearances. It's also unacceptable to simulate mental or neurological symptoms during public appearances," Chmielowiec stressed.
"We call for consideration, we call for respect for other human beings, for refraining from discriminatory, excluding bahaviour," he wrote.