Learning your label

Written by Tom Freeman on 5 February 2014

A re-founding of the country’s national anti-stigma campaign ‘see me’ highlights awareness of living with a label. ‘See me, not a label’ says the tagline. From mental health to disability, classification can be seen as an extension of prejudice and misunderstanding.

In reality, the picture is much more complex. For some, an environment where people do not self-identify as needing support, classification can be empowering.

Lauren King, the MYSP spearheading the Scottish Youth Parliament’s campaign for young carers ‘Care. Fair. Share’, cares for her younger brother Ryan who has cerebral palsy. She told me about how she had often felt ‘invisible’ around professionals who wouldn’t recognise her extensive knowledge of her brother’s condition. When Ryan was taken into hospital with a chest infection, “he started having a lot of seizures and stuff. What would happen is my mum would stay all night in the hospital, and I’d go up quite early in the morning to sit with him all day, so my mum could get a bit of a rest.”

Staff learned she was under 16 and asked her to leave because of potential insurance implications. “Bearing in mind my brother can’t speak, he can’t tell anybody what’s happening to him. They expected my mum, if she wanted a break, to leave him in a hospital bed himself. Mum left him for two minutes in the room and asked a nurse to sit with him in the room, and she came back from the phone call and the nurse had left the room and my brother was hanging out the side of the bed.”

Ryan’s condition means he is at risk of sudden death syndrome. Lauren and her mum know that, the nurse did not. Lauren stayed because she wasn’t going to leave her brother.

A pilot scheme in Fife has seen a young carers’ ID card allow them recognition to pick up prescriptions. King welcomes the idea, but says self-identification is a challenge: “I just thought I was being a big sister. That’s what big sisters do; they look after their younger brother.”

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