Experts call on politicians to stop abusing psychiatric terms

Now what do you think about statements like these: "Mr XYZ is in a serious psychological condition" or "Mr So-and-So is psychotic? No, they were not uttered by doctors. Labels like these have recently become rather common on the Czech political scene, as politicians trade insults with great frequency. Now a group of Czech psychologists and psychiatrists is saying enough is enough. In an open letter to Czech politicians, they are calling on them to stop using psychiatric terms as insults in public discourse.

The last impetus for the specialists to sit down and write the letter was a recent statement by the leader of the Social Democrats and former prime minister Jiri Paroubek. He distanced himself from his former aide - who's facing criminal charges - by saying he is psychotic. Earlier I spoke to Dr Juraj Rektor who is one of the signatories of the open letter.

"Repeatedly we have been hearing statements from politicians that ridicule the mentally ill. They would never dare to use scornful language when talking about other minorities. Mental patients are a large minority, one whose members are not able to fight for themselves, and politicians who should be defending them mock them instead. Now Mr Paroubek has made a link between mental illness and crime by saying that a man suspected of a criminal act was psychotic. That was the last straw and we think it is outrageous."

Jiri Paroubek,  photo: CTK
Dr Rektor says that while such statements occurred from time to time in the past, in the last year or so, certain politicians have been misusing psychiatric terms on a regular basis, perhaps trying to appeal to some groups in society but reinforcing the stigma of mental illness. And to whom in particular has the letter been sent?

"We sent it to the secretariats of all the parties in parliament but right now, the main addressee, of course, is Mr Paroubek who has been communicating with his political opponents in such a deprecating manner for some time. But by his statements he is insulting the mentally ill at the same time."

The senders of the open letter say they don't expect any concrete response. They simply meant to make the politicians start taking this particular minority into consideration in the same way they have changed attitudes to the Roma or the gay community. They say it is time that society at large should start thinking about the mentally ill - and not just in connection with high-profile media cases such as caged beds.