a fit of a role, a status of a label

The first time I found myself inside a psychiatric hospital was in 2003. I was determined to not act as though I belong “in there,” and proceeded to ask question after question to the hospital staff. I guess I wanted to convince me and everyone else that, to put it bluntly, I wasn’t crazy. It’s strange how my acceptance of what I perceived to be my norm has somehow shifted in the last five or six years. I haven’t pressed the staff with questions that sound like I’m writing a sociology term paper.  I stopped attempting to seem “less mentally ill,” whatever that means. I suppose it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks because I’m already here. My “display” of depression has come into question by a patient in previous stays, and though that may have given me some secret comfort then, at this point, I don’t need someone doubting the degree of my illness. The role that I used to be okay not fitting suddenly has become the one I will make sure I fit. In Being Mentally Ill: A Sociological Theory, Thomas Scheff describes how an eventual acceptance of the deviant role will reinforce the person’s labeled status in the social system as mentally ill. Have I ascribed myself a new role? Am I just affirming an existing role, or should I not look at this situation as role-playing at all?

I do know that, statistically, I am not at all the typical ECT patient. The median age of the patients is easily around 40. I may have seen one person in his 30s. Everyone, except me, is white. In fact, I’ve never met another Asian-American psych patient. In looking at the U.S. demographics, it’s really no surprise that you wouldn’t see a person of Asian descent in a psychiatric hospital. I’m not sure if most Asian family members would even care to admit such a thing (I’m going to revisit this topic some other time. I need to gather more information…).

In a sense, ECT allows for those social roles to diminish and just concentrate on a good course of treatment. Ascribed and achieved social roles inevitably come into play in interacting with a psychiatrist, especially in a cozier setting. But must psychiatrists practice more ‘precise’ psychiatry in the case of ECT, when they must divorce themselves from making labels?

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