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Names & Numbers

August 28, 2015

“I feel that there’s no place for humanity anymore. It’s either been crushed or seen as a sign of weakness. Caring has almost become laughable”.

This was a quote from a client I saw for the first time this week. He had been diagnosed with clinical depression and was on two different anti depressants. As he told his story, I felt he was having a perfectly natural reaction to his situation. By the end of the session he said he felt better at the idea that he was experiencing an existential crisis. Obviously, I can’t disclose too much but one thing he told me that struck a chord was that in his work (in the caring profession), all the clients are referred to only by number. ” I’m just off to visit Mrs 636″. “Have you done the risk assessment for Mr 128?”

There are lots of ways in which our humanity is denied and that one is high up in the chart. It is impossible to create a picture of someone by a number.

Labels are another. And quite often, labels and numbers go together. The lead story on the BBC website today is “80 bodies, thought to be migrants, found in lorry”. All humanity is crushed there. Migrants – a loathsome collective noun. Bodies, not people. And 80 also adds something to the othering. Human tragedies are now presented in such a numerical fashion as to distant, almost to the point of meaninglessness. The DWP have released the figures finally of the number of people who have died within 2 weeks of being found fit for work. Once the initial shock of such appallingly high figures subsides, it will be hard for the horror to remain with us. Figures without names, faces or stories don’t take hold and quickly evaporate. It’s the same with the ” Death by indifference” reports about learning disability deaths. Firstly, its hard to get ones head around the dreadful large numbers. But a figure, no matter how large, doesn’t engage in any way that brings about change or action. It’s too anonymous. But perhaps that’s the point.

Next month I’m due to speak at a conference about my experience with the Court of Protection. I was going to talk about how part of the positive aspect of that experience is that neither Steven nor I were anonymised. From day one we were real people and that has increased the impact of our story. I don’t think I’d be invited to speak or people would have been interested in Steven’s story if we’d have just been SN and MN. I understand the need to protect people’s privacy but sometimes, to engage hearts and minds the full person has to be revealed.

Needless to say, as the world pushes relentlessly on in the dehumanising process, Steven goes in the opposite direction. He’s always referred to people, including himself, by first and surname, but of late he’s become interested in titles as well. As I left for work this morning, we ran through his day ahead. He announced that after watching the Mrs Richards episode of Fawlty Towers,

“Steven Neary is going to Mr Ranjit’s Singh’s sweet shop to get some Cheddars and a strawberry milkshake”.

He wouldn’t last five minutes in my client’s workplace.


From → Social Care

  1. weary mother permalink

    ”Dismissed, denied, derided and dehuminised”…….never again?

    ”People who dismiss history are destined to repeat it ”

  2. Sally permalink

    I find being called “Mum” demeaning and anonymising as well. It is infantile. I am sure dealing with people in general the worker is able to use names . Why not us?
    It is quite deliberate, it will be done even when your name is on a file before them, for all to see. I have yet to meet a single parent who finds it charming. Similarly, LD people of whatever age are called by their first names where all others in the room are Mr and Ms. I know some people with LD prefer first names, but this could be asked rather than assumed.
    A friend who is a doctor finds that in discussions about his daughter, he is never ever referred to as “Dr Smith” always ” Mr Smith “or “Dad. “. If he politely corrects them- they seem able to remember the titles of all the other Drs in the room- they will apologise and then do it again..

  3. I used to work in a care home that did that. dehumanise “rm 4 is a pain” rm 7 stinks” was common language used. I didnt last long there reported the place to cqc they said it was a good carehome pffft.

  4. nic permalink

    anonymous is the game, you can keep all assessments/ interventions short and sweet until the end. Dispense with the niceties and plunge straight in from first contact .Saving time and money on the way and no human connection whatsoever.” Mum you will be much better than me at doing X to person there” You Ok with last offices Mum for dead person there ? on to the next call .

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