Labeling Prespective - Analyzing the Mentally Ill in Hong Kong

Use the Labeling Perspective to analyze the mentally ill in Hong Kong

Do you know what “mental illness” is? Nowadays, “mental illness” is a common word in the society. I believe you must have heard of this word. We can read and watch news about mental illness patients on newspapers and televisions. Most people do not want to have contact with those patients. They even prejudice them. In the following paragraphs, we will use the labeling perspective to explain more about the social problem of mental ill in Hong Kong and how to help those patients.

First, let’s read the following real case reported by Apple Daily on 11th February, 2011:

The incident occurred at about 1pm yesterday in the Western District. A man called Ar Lian suddenly walked out from his workplace while he was working in the Chinese restaurant. He striped his white chef uniform, rubber boots and underwear off himself and ran to Catchick Street. He walked into another restaurant and wanted to run into a female customer. He was then pushed out of the restaurant by the owner. He walked around the street and found another target. He found and pushed a woman down on the ground and tried to strip her clothes off. Luckily, some pedestrians who saw the incident stopped him and called the police.

The man in the above case is a Mania, a mood disorder patient. The media reported this news wantonly. This kind of news reports make the public misunderstand that the entire mental illness patients are as same as that man who carried out deviant behavior. The public starts to prejudice and exclude those patients after reading this kind of news reports.

Being misunderstand, how do the patients feel? We have done some research about the feelings of mental illness patients. Actually, the public usually have negative impressions about them. However, not all mental illness patients are harmful. Here is one of our examples.

An ex-mental illness patient, who had schizophrenia when he was young, was being interviewed in a video. He could hear some sounds which seems like someone is talking to him and it makes his mood become unsteady. He needed to take medicine to control his disordered mood. Unfortunately, although the medicine is effective, he felt inertia and painful after taking the medicine. He was frustrated about the situation and he wanted to commit suicide. Luckily, someone helped him at that time. That person told him that he still has a lot of things to do and he cannot die.
After this experience, he discovered that people cannot hide all their feelings. If you want others to help you, you must tell them what you are thinking and your true feelings. Since the man in the video was helped by others when he got mental illness, he became willing to help other people after he had recovered from his illness.

After understanding the situation of Hong Kong’s mental illness patients, let’s analyze this social problem by using the labeling perspective.

According to the labeling perspective, a social problem or social deviant is defined by social reactions, which are received from the public or from social control agents, to an alleged violation of rules and expectations. Mental illness is defined as a social problem since the result of surveys show that Hong Kong residents remain negative perception towards mental illness and those patients. They think those patients are abnormal. The surveys results also show that most of the public are not willing to be friends, or even refuse to get contact with mental illness patients, because they think those patients will commit some abnormal behavior, such as violence, which are alleging as violation of rules and expectations. Most people are not willing to live near those patients as if the patients are labeled as “Dangerous”. Also, Hong Kong residents remain different prejudice towards mental illness patients. Therefore, Mental illness is defined as a social problem in Hong Kong and those patients are becoming isolated from the society.

The government also has its responsibility of causing such a social problem. It did not take enough action for the mental patient because it does not have a comprehensive and clear policy for the mental illness patients. For example, there are no suitable and effective policies for recovered mental illness patients to reenter the society. In fact, the government has provided some educations the public, such as spreading correct messages of mental illness through different departments. However, these educations did not achieve the goal, which is to let the public know more about mental illness, efficiently. Part of the reason of failure is the short implementation time and the lack of professional support. Thus the result is that even public’s attention of mental illness and mental health is aroused, their attitudes towards mental illness patients are not changed yet. The public remain misunderstanding those patients, having ideas such as all mental illness patients are violence and harmful to the society.

Basing on the labeling perspective, when a person or situation is labeled as problematic deviant, the labeler is usually in a position to gain by affixing such a label. The labeler must have a negative label to apply and power to make it stick. Very often, labeling is done by someone whose job is to apply labels, and assigning labels is often a mark of success in such jobs. People may label themselves and they may gain some advantages in doing so occasionally.

In the case of mental ill in Hong Kong, the negative label is “mental illness patients”. The labelers are the media, psychiatrists, the public, employers and also sometimes the patients themselves. The media, such as newspapers, has the responsibility to report news happened in the society. However they always use some exaggerate words or some humiliation picture to describe the metal illness patients. These phrases may attract more people to read and thus the media will get good sales. In some movies or comics, some characters who have mental illness may commit violence. However the cases in movies or comics are false. It may arouse public’s attention, but it does not mean that the patients in the reality will do the same terrible things.

The psychiatrists in Hong Kong assign labels as they think they have rights, powers and also responsibilities to label the mental illness patients. By labeling those patients, the psychiatrists can show their professional medical knowledge and improve their status in this society. The public does labeling as they can have an easier target to attack or prejudice. Some people may get fun by ridiculing the mental illness patients. When employees are proved they have got mental illness, their employers will usually fire them eventually. It is because employers think those patients may hurt others and they have responsibility to protect other normal employees’ safe. Some employers also think mental illness patients do not have same working ability as normal employees so they hardly employ those patients. On the other hand, medical insurance for employees usually doesn’t cover mental illness. Even the insurance plan cover it, the premiums would be much higher than the usual ones.

Sometimes patients may label themselves too. Doing such may make a deterrence that help the patient try to find psychiatrists’ help. It is a positive effect of the perspective. In the other hand, some patients may use the label to protect themselves in an unreasonable way. For examples, the patients abuse the services of Equal Opportunities Commission and always complain the newspaper to get compensation, and other interest and costs.

According to the labeling perspective, effect of secondary deviance will probably occur after the deviant group received social reactions from the public or social control agents. The deviant group will elaborate their deviant role and reorder their human relations in a way that promotes further”deviance”. In other words, further promoting what they are told to be. This vicious circle will limit the deviant’s life chance as the result.
In the case of mental illness, we can see that some ex-mental illness patients are still being labeled as “mental illness patients”. They may have difficulties in finding jobs eventually as their status is disclosed. Since their life chance is limited, they may commit deviant behaviors, such as isolating themselves, or even commit suicide. Some cases also show that patients lacking of or cannot receive enough professional support may lead to aggravated condition, while ex-patients may fall ill again.

Reviewing the government policies on mental illness, which are issued to strengthen public education and provide support services, former can help stopping the labeling effect while the latter only help the patients themselves. From the real situation nowadays, we can say the policies are not very efficient. So are there any other solutions to due with this problem?

According to the labeling perspective, there are two main types of solutions to solve the problem--- changing the definition and taking the profit out of labeling.

To change the definition of mental illness, we all ought to take their first step stopping labeling. The government should educate the public through talks and advertisements. They should let the public know that mental illness and insanity are different. The public’s attitudes towards mental illness should also be changed. As people understand more about mental illness the negative definition of mental illness can be changed. Besides that, we can use better words to replace “mental illness patients”, such as “mood disorder patients” and “people with obsessive compulsive disorder”.
To take the profit out of labeling, first, the media should not use bad words to get attention from their readers. They may gain fame through labeling while those mental illness patients suffer from prejudice. On the other hand, employers should not deduct wages from their mental illness employees nor reduce their benefits just because of their mental disabilities. As mental illness patients have abilities to work as same as usual people, employers should treat them equally with others.

Apart from this, people should not label themselves as mental patients to gain benefits such as getting a job more easily. People may label themselves if they could not get any jobs. They would try to make use of discrimination law in Hong Kong, and they eventually get their jobs.
Furthermore, the mental illness patients can form unions to protect themselves and to fight for their won rights just like other occupations. They can invite social workers, doctors and also professionals to join their union as to increase the union’s reliability.

To conclude, by analyzing the mentally ill in Hong Kong using the labeling perspective, we can find out that there are several groups of labelers who lead to this problem: media, psychiatrists, the public, employers and sometimes the patients themselves. Excluding the patients themselves, all labelers suggest that they have right and responsibility to label. It is true that all labelers gain their own advantages through labeling. For examples, media gain financial benefits and psychiatrists gain frame from labeling mental illness patients. Although we can see the government has put its effort in dueling with this social problem, it is not enough. Several solutions are suggested after analyzing the problem with the labeling perspective, such as educating the public to change the negative definition of mental illness, encouraging the media to use better words to describe mental illness patients, taking labelers’ profit out of labeling by forming unions of mental illness patients.

After all, we all have our responsibility to stop the vicious circle of labeling so we all need to act to solve this problem. Let’s take our first step to accept mental illness patients and help them to reenter our society.