Labels are an important part of our life. Think about it. We may or may not appreciate the fact but they are everywhere. I am defined by the labels on my clothes (seldom numbers I am happy with!), labels on my food – fat, saturates or not, carbohydrates (sugars or other), labels on everything I buy online or in a store. Care labels. Manufacturers’ labels. Contents labels. “How to” labels. Labels I add to things to help easy identification in the future, etc.
Then there are the labels about who I am. My age defines me as of a particular generation (only just a baby boomer if you must know). My place of birth is another label – I own up to being born in London, but if you ask further it was more to the west, no, not the West End, well, Ealing actually, just off Broad Way, around the corner from the Ealing Studios, where my Dad’s much loved “Carry On” films were crafted. That’s it. You have now got me in a mental box or pigeonhole with a label on it.
But what about other labels that may define me? Married? Divorced? Blended family? Employed? Self-employed? Successful? Mother? Wife? Carer? Provider? Homemaker? Frustrated? Annoyed? Depressed? How about the labels of “mother of an ADHD child” or a “dyslexic” one, or “disabled” or affected by mental ill health? They all generate a visceral positive or negative response in us.
The use of labels is an emotive and polarising construct. A label can be used as a weapon or a tool. I have met people who are so anti the labeling of children (in particular) that the children slip through the education system, failing and unsupported because no-one will admit there may be an issue that needs help and support because everyone is frightened to label them. In admitting there is an issue that needs help “someone” needs to find the funding for support to help the un-labeled but labeled person copes in the moronic box of life called “normal”. Which they know they are not (“normal” in the accepted use or meaning of the word) and simply do not fit. Yet for some daft reason, they are “filed” as “normal”. In the normal range of “x” whatever that means. Here the label is used as a weapon against the affected child/ person. By parents not wanting to accept or too frightened to accept there “may” be an issue. By educational specialists not willing to admit there we may be an issue because it will need funding or is beyond their knowledge and ability. By medical professionals who are reluctant to label and dodge the assessment or the diagnosis, just in case. It’s an issue of statistics and numbers if you must.
Then there are the people who are desperately depressed (or anxious or stressed) but won’t go to their doctor for support and help because they do not want the “label” of depressed or suffering anxiety or stressed written into their medical record. So they suffer in silence and begin the downward spiral to a dark, gloomy non-functioning or mal-functioning place within themselves.
I have learned that labels can be a very useful tool when used properly, like a signpost or a hook to hang your coat on. They can provide a guideline, a way out even, but also, a source of hope. It may be a starting point and bovver, the label may change, but as a parent, an educationalist or a medical professional or the affected person, it gives you somewhere to start. Somewhere to start the research to gain the understanding of what may or may not help a child fit into the “system”, be “normal” in a world they find challenging. Somewhere to start seeking the right help and support needed to deal with mental ill health. Do you know that some 95% people who get help and support early on for a mental health issue go on to recover completely and lead fully functioning and fulfilled lives? So don’t rob yourself of the opportunities the label may reveal, rather use it as a tool to accomplish the project of functioning well in a dysfunctional world and go on and enjoy it!
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