Sticks and Stones can break my bones but words will cut like a knife!

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thumbnail.jpgWhat's the big deal about being given a label...... the answer....a lot.  An increasing number of children are given increasingly specific labels, ranging from psychiatric and neurological diagnoses such as Asperger's and attention deficit disorder to educational descriptors including "gifted" and learning disabled". (Szalavitz, 2007).  What happened to kids just being kids?  It seems that everything now these days has to have a label attached.

 A few months back while I was working with a child who was diagnosed with depression and bipolar disorder, I realized the effect labeling has on a child.  The child and I were reviewing their biopsychosocial and the child seemed very concerned with the label of 'depression and bipolar'.  She asked why they labeled her as bipolar, because no one had ever called her that before.  This particular child has been in at least seven other residential placements within the last four years.  The child was upset at the label and kept saying she's not a crazy person.  I tried to explain to her that it's just one persons opinion and that the label isn't what defines her.  I don't think I got through to her.

Researchers began to study the cognitive effects of labeling in the 1930s, when linguist Benjamin Whorf proposed the linguistic relativity hypothesis. Most often known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis or the theory of linguistic relativity, the notion that the diversity of linguistic structures affects how people perceive and think about the world has been a canonical topic of American linguistic anthropology (Woolard, 2010).
 
The fact that labels create sets that influence subsequent perception has long been established (Langer & Abelson, 1974).  No one likes to be called names like fat, stupid, a cutter or crazy.  For children in a mental health setting, labeling and name calling can have devastating effects.  The labeling effect refers to a tendency to perceive clients in ways that are erroneous owing to the reactive effect of an existing psychiatric label (Schneider, Gruman & Coutts, 2010). There is often a stigma that is associated with being diagnosed with mental illness that may hinder families' and care providers' willingness to pursue mental health services.

A friend of mine is currently struggling with a brother who refuses to seek professional treatment.  The brother has had a past diagnose of schizophrenia.  One day he stopped at my house to visit, which was very odd because I only met him once and didn't understand how he knew where I lived.  I knew that he had some sort of mental health issue and had been living3820576488_02cc170ef7_z.jpg on the streets for the past few weeks.  My friend's family has tried everything to help him but he refuses their offers and ministrations.  The brother had been receiving for years a disability check from the government due to his mental health issues.  The family found out he had closed his bank account and stopped accepting these checks.  What he told me was that he wasn't crazy so why should he get money from the government if he wasn't crazy.  He associated the checks with being labeled as crazy.  If he didn't get the checks  .... then ...... he wasn't crazy.  Unfortunately, he still is refusing help and still living on the streets.  But it is evident from this example that being labeled can alter an individual's perception. 

References

Langer, E. J. & Abelson, R. P. (1974).  A patient by an other name....clinician group difference in labeling  bias.  Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42 (1); 44-9.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2005). Applied social psychology:    understanding and addressing social and practical problems. London: Sage.

Szalavitz, M. (February,  2007). Gifted? Autistic? Or Just Quirky?  The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/02/23/AR2007022301785_pf.html

Woodlard, K. (September, 2010).  Linguistic Relativity, Whorf,  Linguistic Anthropology.  Retrieved from  http://linguisticanthropology.org/blog/2010/09/01/linguistic-relativity-whorf-linguistic-anthropology/

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2 Comments

Ericka, I think you did a very nice job on this post. The effects of labeling and harassment are evident in this blog post. To add onto this, I think this post can also describe bullying and its harsh consequences. Each day, sadly hundreds of kids are bullied. Bullying can take place in many different forms. I think cyber bullying is a type of bullying that is very common in society. Cyberbullying is a form of harassment that makes use of the latest technology. Primarily the harassment occurs on the web, but today's smart phones are being used to harass people as well. With this being said, I think people should be aware of this form of bullying in order to help protect kids from this phenomenon.

My son was diagnosed with ADHD ten years ago. We told him that his medication was "vitamins" so that he wouldn't feel different. Unfortunatly, a teacher told him that he had ADHD and he came home in tears. He felt like something was wrong with him and said that no one wanted to be friends with him because he was broken. “Self-fulfilling prophecies – ideas that become reality simply because someone believes them – usually have strong effects” (Aaronson, 2005). My son believed that he couldn’t do well in school because he had ADHD. Unfortunatly, his belief started to affect his school work. Fortunatly, my husband and I intervened and introduced my son to some successful adults with ADHD. My son saw that if he made some modifications to his daily activities, he could function on the same level (if not better) than the other students in his class. Labels have severe effects on children and adults. Perhaps people should think twice before giving them.

References
Aaronson, L. (2005, March 01). Self-fulfilling Prophecies. Retrieved December 9, 2011, from Psychology Today: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200504/self-fulfilling-prophecies

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