Arkham Asylum

I want you to close your eyes.  What do you think of when you hear “supportive environment”?  Focus on on a place where you feel supported and safe.  Where people gather to talk and share and express themselves without fear of judgement.  Think a space where you can cry or scream or yell or sit quietly and others will respect your expression.  A place where security means the freedom to move around and seek assistance from those around you.  Where the distinction between peer and professional takes a back seat to receiving validation and aid.  There are open spaces here.  There is recreation.  There is art and performance.

Now observe these images:

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I know where I would prefer to go should I need assistance with mental health issues if it was between the description and the pictures.  The pictures are of Arkham Asylum, more formally known as the Elizabeth Arkham Asylum for the Criminally Insane.  Anyone who likes Batman knows Arkham, it is where all the villains end up…or in some cases come from.  Arkham encompasses all the worst assumptions and stereotypes of mental health treatments.  Arkham is scary, dark, a locked facility full of the worst elements of society including deformed, mutated, and altogether “anti-normal” individuals.  On top of that it is a place for criminals.  Though it specifies the “criminally insane” it is hard to find a line between “criminally” and “insane.”  For the most part it seems in the Batman universe those two terms are synonymous.  Even Batman, who many believe to have one or more mental illness (please see Batman is Batsh!t) is viewed as a dangerous vigilante barely remaining on the side of “good.”

I’ll be honest, when I hear “asylum” or “sanatorium” I think of a place like Arkham and the old institutions featured in films and books like Girl, Interrupted and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

Just one big headache

I have a thing for google images.  I decided to type “mental health” in the search bar and see what came up…I saw an interesting trend that I would like to share with you.

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I see two things from these people grasping their heads, it looks like they are having really bad headaches or they are all really sad or stressed.  I know that it is difficult to visually get the idea of mental illness across.  But it is a complicated concept.  Unfortunately images like these imply that mental illness equals sad or headache.  It makes it all feel so simple.  Most of these images are stock images too and when you do a little research it is interesting to see what they are attached to.  Some are connected to articles about stress, one about how racial discrimination hurts the mental health of African American women, one is about panic attacks and anxiety, one is from an article called “How your financial health can impact your mental health.”

Try putting some search terms into google images and see what happens.  It’s an interesting activity.

Bipolar Art

When I was looking for some kind of image to put on my last post I came across some interesting artwork.  I like putting images on blog posts because it draws readers in and it gives you something to look at when I post the blog on Facebook.  But while looking for an image related to Bipolar Disorder I came across this:

It really struck me.  I’m not sure why.  Perhaps that the image is of a person who looks like a young child.  It could be the contrasting imagery, of course intentional due to the “dual” nature of Bipolar Disorder.  I find the image intense though not disturbing like some of the images that came up in the “Bipolar art” search category of google images. 

Case and point:

That’s what artists do

A friend passed these podcasts on to me.  Click here to listen to them.


The moment I clicked on the link the podcast started and the first thing you hear is a man (Carter Goodwin) describing his desire to touch the third rail of the subway track (the electrified rail).  He describes his experience prior to being diagnosed with Bipolar I and what his diagnosis means.  But he explains that he does not manifest the same way most people with Bipolar I do such as “doing these outrageous things” like running down the street nude.  He describes himself as being manic in a way that would not shock people because he identifies as an artist and people think that his manifestation of mania is just behavior commonly associated with artists.  It is interesting that he is diagnosed with Bipolar I yet still distances himself from others with that diagnosis.  He also raises an interesting point that others will not necessarily think that there is a mental illness at play because many of the behaviors we associate with certain forms of mental illness primarily mood disorders we also associate with certain lifestyles like that of an artist.  It makes me think about the fine line, the distinction between someone’s lifestyle and personality and actually having what we call a mental ILLNESS.  Is it an illness or just a different experience or way of being that because of how much it does not match other people’s way of being it can end up having damaging affects on someone such as leading him to consider suicide by electrified subway rail.

This is of course not to belittle the experience of those with this diagnosis.  The diagnosis and associated treatments are very helpful for some.  It just gets me thinking.

Another interesting thing is how these podcasts are presented. They are on the Health Guide page of the New York Times website.  This particular series of story is called:

Patient Voices: Bipolar Disorder

What is it like to have bipolar disorder? To be labeled “crazy”? How do you balance the ups and downs? Here, in their own words, are the stories of nine men and women living with bipolar disorder.

I’m trying to look at this from a number of different ways but I personally do not see very many negatives.  I like that this is some that is “in their own words.”  It is sometimes validating to share your experience in this way and to own it as YOUR unique experience.  Not something that can be detailed and defined with cookie-cutter application.  But it could be exceptionalizing to put it out there is this manner.  “Listen to these people, they actually have it!”

More from BeyondBlue

BeyondBlue is the National Depression Initiative.

I used one of their signs that they use to advertise in a previous post.  This was the sign:

Don't be afraid to ask for help, you'll get it...apparently

It calls on those experiencing mental illness to speak up.  It states “Postnatal depression and anxiety.  It’s OK to ask for help.”  And you know what, it IS OK to ask for help and no, not everyone knows that.  But I compared this sign to a campaign from SANE Australia because it advocated for others to recognize the signs of mental illness.

Well BeyondBlue has other signs too.  Here are 3 they have regarding depression.  They are all men, perhaps to contrast the postnatal depression ad that features a woman…I don’t know…how much thought do you think went into these decisions?  These men are, in a way, describing their depression.  The woman is an ad focused on anxiety.

While somewhat awareness raising they are more like sob stories.  Look at how horrible these people look.  The one smile is from the woman who “Spoke Up” about her postnatal depression and anxiety.  I’m not saying the models should be smiling about depression and anxiety, the ones in the SANE signs campaign aren’t.  I am just curious about the different message being sent.  I honestly can’t name the different message yet but I’ve been thinking about it.

Raging Bull

I was reading a very interesting article for a paper I am writing for my law class on police interactions with those experiencing mental illness.  The article is from Great Britain and is in a journal called Nursing Standard.  It is about a nurse, Richard Harwin, who spent five years as a police constable.  He has also worked in a medium secure unit and in forensic research at a hospital.  Throughout these different jobs he recognized the need and importance of having police officers who are properly prepared and trained to interact with populations with mental illness.  He is now a mental health intervention officer with the Metropolitan Police and has set up regular trainings with police officers and developed important partnerships with community mental health agencies so that they may work collaboratively with the police.

This sounds great!  I am very excited to use it for my paper.  But a particular quote from Mr. Harwin stood out to me:

“A police uniform can act like a red rag to a bull to someone who is mentally ill.”

I get it.  I think I get it.  Mr. Harwin is pointing out sensitive a situation may be when police are called and someone with a mental illness is involved.  Not to mention the fact that most people in general are not thrilled to deal with police let alone someone who may be regularly misunderstood and abused by those in authority.  That said…the analogy struck a cord with me.  It could be because of this blog and project but comparing someone with a mental illness to a bull, a creature that is often associated with uncontrolled aggression.

It is worth noting that according to “Ask Yahoo!” bulls are colorblind and the red cape is more of a theatrical tradition.  It points out that it is all about breeding a bull to enhance or exploit its aggression.  I’m sure Mr. Harwin did not put this much thought into what was most likely an off-hand remark.

But it struck a cord with me…

Citation for the article:
Sadler, C. (2009). A force for good. Nursing Standard, 24(15-17), 18-19.


This is SANE Australia:

What we do
SANE Australia is a national charity working for a better life for people affected by mental illness – through campaigning, education and research.

SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends. It also operates a busy Helpline and website, which have thousands of contacts each year from around Australia.

Headed by Executive Director Barbara Hocking OAM, SANE is a leading independent NGO campaigning for the one in five Australians affected by mental illness every year. SANE relies exclusively on donations and grants to achieve its goals and receives no ongoing government funding so every dollar counts.

They have an interesting campaign called the Signs CampaignIt is supposed “to promote understanding of the early signs of mental illness, and highlights the importance of getting help for those affected.”  I took that quote from their website.

It’s rather creative, here are some of the “signs”

I actually like the play on the word “signs.”  I feel it’s an engaging way to address this issue and I like that it is a focus on others to pay attention, be aware and not telling people who need help that it is their responsibility to get it.  Kind of like this ad from a similar campaign with, what I believe are the same positive intentions: 

Don't be afraid to ask for help, you'll get it...apparently

Now the campaign that this ad is from has some other ads that don’t put the responsibility on the person who may need the help.  Empowering people to ask for help is important but I really appreciate the efforts of SANE Australia’s signs campaigns to encourage awareness of the signs of mental illness.
That said we could talk about the faces and images they use to represent depression, anxiety and so on.  But I’ll leave that for another time.

Check out this slideshow for other “signs”

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Acceptance, Dignity and Social Inclusion

A friend passed this website along to me and I think it’s good to get some resources out there.

SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)

One thing that is interesting is that significant portion of these resources come from other countries, primarily the United Kingdom and Australia.  Makes you wonder.  It is run by DHHS, an American federal agency, why don’t we have more resources to populate this page?

Why Are the Mentally Ill Still Bearing Arms?

Please read:

After Tucson: Why Are the Mentally Ill Still Bearing Arms?

The first thing that struck me about this article is, how do we know if someone is mentally ill?  In the case of the shooter of Gabrielle Giffords, he was told by his school he could return only if he obtained “a mental health clearance indicating, in the opinion of a mental health professional, his presence at the College does not present a danger to himself or others.”  A letter in support or opposed to his returning to school could cite a mental health diagnosis or not.  It does not sound like it is necessary for him to have diagnosis to be a danger to himself or others.  The diagnosis would help with medication, court procedure and perhaps insurance payments.  Can we rely on diagnoses?  Can we rely on mental health professionals’ assessments?  Should someone’s mental health status be publicly recorded so that when someone attempts to buy a gun the seller will have access to it?  Even if they don’t have access to it and it simply flags the person as someone who cannot buy a gun now people will know that this person either has a criminal record or a mental illness.  Shouldn’t our mental states be protected under confidentiality?  Oh wait, I think they are…kind of.

I don’t see a winning option here…unless we outlaw gun, which is clearly not an option for many people.  I am not advocating either way here, I simply do not think that is the main point.  It has been deemed appropriate to discriminate against those with a criminal background and with a mental illness (kind of…where it’s recorded and accessible whether accurate or not) when it comes to guns.  Unfortunately we don’t know about all the domestic violence perpetrators out there who should probably be discriminated against as well.  It is too difficult to quantify these things.  Again I’m not saying we should or should not have stricter gun control, no gun control, or no guns but it would seem no guns might be the best solution.

How Can We Fix You Today part 2

This ad is scary.  So are psychotic people.

Fire in the mind = manic-depression.
I actually enjoy the artwork here.  For once this is not a sarcastic caption.  I wonder who drew it.  If someone who was diagnosed with manic-depression (note: this is no longer the correct clinical terminology, symptoms of manic-depression are now often diagnosed and/or labeled as bi-polar) drew this I would say it is enlightening, interesting, and perhaps insightful.  If someone who has no experience with mental illness drew this I would question why this imagery came to mind.

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