Paralympics – lessons for us all

It’s truly great to see how big an event the Paralympics has become, and how in many ways the games demonstrate the decreasing relevance of disability.

And let us hope that the press or the world at large does not overdo the words like ‘heroes’ or ‘brave’or’inspiring’ . Of course one can agree with all those adjectives, but for me it is often delivered in a patronising way – rather like a pat on the head, accompanied by the word ‘bless’.

Let us rather applaud their skill and dedication to their sport. For great skill is evident.

And in watching with awe at what can be achieved with one limb, or when incapacitated by cerebral palsy, my mind drifts to the last ‘unwashed’ sector of society – the mentally ill.  Certain stars have recently been admonished for using the term ‘mong’ and the ghastly terms spaz, or retard, seem to be in retreat too. Let us hope so. But there are many words that still get bandied about without thought for mocking way they diminish those who are mentally ill, like ‘nutter’ or ‘fruitcake’ or ‘barking’ or ‘loony’. Because they get trotted out with mindless regularity, the currency they hold may seem insignificant, but I believe they do untold harm, and stop a lot of people admitting to having issues, for fear of ridicule. History shows us that minority groups get persecuted and the mentally ill occupy such a position. But what is a minority? – 8 million in the UK suffer from mental illness of some kind yet only 13% of the NHS budget goes towards it. Unlike attitudes to race, homosexuality, and physical disability, the overt prejudice towards mental illness remains as immoveable as ever.

So let us hope the Paralympics take us further down the road to understanding.

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