Katie Rose Guest Pryal is a Clinical Assistant Law Professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, specializing in legal writing and rhetoric. In addition to teaching, she is also a fantastic academic speaker and national writer on psychiatric disabilities.
Here Jason interviews her to get her take on Psychiatric Disabilities in Academia.
JASON: YOU HAVE WRITTEN NUMEROUS ARTICLES ON LAW, HIGHER EDUCATION, AND HIDDEN PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES. HOW COMMON DO YOU THINK IT IS FOR PEOPLE IN EDUCATION OR ACADEMIA TO HAVE HIDDEN DISABILITIES?
KATIE: Because people often choose not to disclose their psychiatric disabilities in academia, it is hard to get a good sense for how prevalent these disabilities are. The Guardian conducted an anonymous mental health survey of UK academics confirming that psychiatric disabilities are both common and hidden among that population.
JASON: WHAT TYPES OF CHALLENGES DO YOU AND OTHERS IN THE ACADEMIC COMMUNITY FACE WITH A HIDDEN DISABILITY?
KATIE: As I wrote about in my Disclosure Blues column, because academia expects its workers—faculty—to be these disembodied brains. And, prejudices against psychiatric disabilities presume that such disabilities mean a person has, as one of my interviewees put it, “a broken brain.” If you have a broken brain, why would you be of any value as a professor? Because of these prejudices, many faculty choose to keep their disabilities hidden if it is possible for them to do so.
JASON: IN ONE OF YOUR ARTICLES, YOU SPEAK OF HUMOR. HOW DOES THAT PLAY A SIGNIFICANT ROLE?
KATIE: Some people who expresses ableist language and insults do so out of ignorance rather than bad will. I have found, at times, the best way to address situations in which a person I work with uses “bipolar” or “schizo” to mean “unpredictable” or “scatterbrained” is to use humor and a gentle tone, rather than anger.
JASON: IN “WHEN FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION,” YOU WRITE ABOUT THE STRESS OF TAKING THE BAR EXAM. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ADDED STRUGGLES FOR STUDENTS WITH PSYCHIATRIC DISABILITIES LIKE ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION? WHAT STRATEGIES MAY HELP THOSE STUDENTS COPE?
KATIE: Many law schools have recognized the incredible stress that law school itself places on students. This added stress, combined with the stigma of mental illness, can cause psychiatric disabilities to manifest in a variety of ways. Fortunately, these law schools now have counselors on staff, in the law school building, that can meet with students to talk about law school life. You can learn more about the Law School Academic Support field on their blog.
JASON: DO YOU THINK THERE ARE SIMILAR STRUGGLES FACING PEOPLE WITH HIDDEN MENTAL HEALTH ISSUES AND PERSONS WITH HIDDEN DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES SUCH AS HIGH FUNCTIONING AUTISM, LEARNING DISABILITIES, DYSLEXIA, TOURETTES, ETC.? AND IF SO, WHAT ARE THOSE STRUGGLES YOU HAVE OBSERVED?
KATIE: I use the term “psychiatric disabilities” rather than the term “mental health issues” because it is important to recognize that these conditions are disabilities in the first place. Furthermore, because I use the term psychiatric disabilities, I see autism, learning disabilities, and the others that you mentioned falling under that umbrella. Others may disagree of course, and naming and grouping is an unsettled area. As far as similarities and differences of struggles go: first, every single person experiences stigma and ableist social conditions in a unique way. Second, each particular disability has its own stigma and social struggles. For example, the U.S. populace tends to fear people with schizophrenia, whereas they may believe that people with learning disabilities are not intelligent.
Find out more about Katie Rose Guest Pryal.
This original interview has been contributed by Jason’s Connection co-founder Jason Harris.