I posted the following comment on the Facebook page for the city's Mental Health First Aid training program (www.healthymindsphilly.org) after a class last Saturday:
I took the first half of an adult MHFA training today. In most respects it was very good, especially the emphasis on being non-judgmental. But one part troubled me, precisely because it wasn't consistent with that principle. The problem was with an "alphabet" exercise in which people were invited to volunteer possible signs of mental illness starting with different letters, and the instructor wrote them down on a whiteboard. Because she subsequently made no reference to the resulting list -- and especially because she sometimes appeared to question them before writing them down -- this gave the appearance of an endorsement of items in the list. This was troubling with respect to a couple words: "kinky" and "unusual." These are often associated with pejorative connotations, and to list them as signs of mental illness helps to perpetuate prejudice against those perceived as "unusual" or "kinky." But even when I pointed out to the instructor the presently total lack of civil rights protections for kinky people, she couldn't acknowledge the point, apparently blinded by her own defensiveness. Instead she initially tried to claim that "kinky" and "sex" are synonyms. (They're not even the same part of speech! And in any case the main symptom she quoted from a Web page, loss of libido, has nothing to do with what most people mean by kinky.) When that failed, she claimed the word's appearance on the list didn't imply endorsement. That would be a fair point if she'd told the class that -- but she never did. So what was the point of the exercise? At *best* it's a waste of time since it isn't being used as a teachable moment when people's suggested signs are incorrect. But at worst, as in this case, it's actually helping perpetuate a stigma that hurts people -- and may sometimes make them mentally ill.