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Mental Illness -- Stigma or Sexy?

Full confession time.  You may have noticed that I respect copyright.  I use images in the public domain or with permission, and don't use pictures where permission has been denied.  Which sometimes is a real bite.  The Des Moines Register...

I don't have permission for this one yet.  I ripped it from a site where you can purchase bracelets to support  So I urge you to help me atone for my sins, while I write for permission.  Go to this link and buy one.  They have those cute little loony birds on them.  And you know how I love loony! is Joey (Pants) Pantaliano's bid to make mental illness as cool and as sexy as erectile dysfunction.


Okay, it hasn't gone viral yet.   But Harrison Ford with one earring is kinda sexy.  It's a start.

Joey has major depressive disorder and wants us all to come out of that closet.  Hence, "No kidding? Me, too!

Like, that clergy continuing education day on depression, when my small group didn't do the discussion questions.   Instead, we compared meds.

So Joey has these bracelets, (go buy one) starting at $25 in your choice of 144 combinations of colors, frames and metal finishes, along with a twelve page catalog to help you choose more medallions.  Up to five will fit on your bracelet.  No kidding.

Joey, we have to talk. -- I'll get back to that.

The point is to tell the world that you or somebody you love is nutso, so deal with it.  Shades of "We're here. We're queer.  Get used to it."   Only nicer.

As cool and as sexy as erectile dysfunction.  Seriously.

Stigma Persists

Well, we have a way to go.  The American Journal of Psychiatry published a study on September 15 that traced changes in perceptions of mental illness and substance abuse from 1996 to 2006.  Major public education campaigns have indeed educated the public.  In ten years there were huge increases in the numbers of people who understand that mental illness and substance abuse have genetic and neurobiological causes and should be treated medically, preferably by a psychiatrist.  Stigma -- those numbers have not budged one inch.  Prejudice has not changed at all.  Not even among those who go with the neurological approach.  In some ways, it is worse.

Which doesn't really surprise me.

There are two versions of these public education campaigns.  One comes from the pharmaceutical industry.  You know, those gray tones of the woman who ignores her kids and won't even walk the dog, then the introduction of the powerful pill, followed by the transformation into Mother of the Year.   Or that one where she's skipping on the beach, gazing lovingly into the eyes of her beloved.

Impose that narrative on your depressed coworker.  Message: So what's wrong with you?

Then there are those oh-so-sincere celebrity stories.  My sister has a mental illness.  But I really love her.  So please be nice to her, because she needs all the help she can get.

Okay, but you wouldn't want to marry one, would you?  Buy stock in a company whose CEO has a mental illness?

I think we are going about this all wrong.  Here is a message that has not reached the general public.  (It hasn't even reached some of our doctors.)

Mental Health Continuum

Some people have heart attacks.  Their hearts are not built differently than other hearts.  They are on one edge of the continuum of heart health.

Some people have a mental illness.  We do not have a different kind of brain.  None of our experiences are qualitatively different from the experiences of people who do not have a mental illness.  We all are on a continuum of human brain health.  It's just that some of us are at the farther edge of the continuum.

The undiagnosed (and many who are diagnosed) are scared of that edge.  Kind of like how sailors used to be scared that, if they sailed too far west, they would fall off.

But unlike unhealthy hearts, our end of the continuum gives us strengths, as well as weaknesses.  Otherwise, so many of the truly creative people in every field of human endeavor would not have a mental illness. -- A concept to be explored in a later post.

Cool and sexy?  At the very least, valuable.  I do think Joey is onto something.  He just needs to get the right team together.

The Mentally Interesting Have Something To Offer

Why don't we make this an exercise in Appreciative Inquiry?  Here is what I mean.

Don't let the Aspies design the bracelets.  They will overwhelm us with 144 options and a twelve page catalog.  But we need them to think outside the neurotypical box, so we don't miss the genius solution.  On the other hand, give that bracelet design to bipolar II's.  We can sell anything.  But we need the (recovering) alcoholics to call us on our bullshit.

See where I am going with this?  I have some ideas.  But I don't know everything.  I need your help.

You know your diagnosis, along with the strengths it gives you and the potholes you need to watch out for.  Send me your ideas, and we'll write another blog post together.

Let's give Joey a hand.  We all need all the help we can get. And we can give it, too.

Illustration of human heart by Patrick J. Lynch, 
used through Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License 2006
Photo of human brain by Gaeton Lee, 
Columbia in a Squall by George Davidson, the ship's artist, 1793
Cartoon of Goschen and Ritchie, Champion Weight Lifters
from St Stephens Review Presentation Cartoon 14 April 1888
and in the publis domain


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