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.

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.

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?

Batman is Batsh!t

10 Superheroes Who Undoubtedly Suffer From Mental Illness (By: Michael Lee)

I came across this randomly one day when indulging my “nerd” like sensibilities.  Mental health is a sensitive topic.  This editorial by Michael Lee on Nerdism Editorials is far from sensitive.  I am not overly concerned with the subjects of this editorial.  You see Mr. Lee is discussing how “crazy” different comic book characters are.  He lists what he believes would be an appropriate diagnosis for the likes of Spider-man, Wolverine, and the Hulk and talks about why he has come to such conclusions.  I am not worried about what the Hulk thinks of Mr. Lee’s opinions (though perhaps Mr. Lee should be).  But how do those with the diagnoses he throws out feel about his descriptions?  Below is an excerpt from his description of Peter Parker AKA Spider-man:

“Ahh, I’m depressed because my best friend’s dad wants to kill me. Wahhh!”, “Ahh, I’m depressed because I’m not good enough for my supermodel wife. Wahhh!”, “Ahh, I’m depressed because my boss doesn’t pay me enough to take photographs of myself! Wahhh!” If you really think about it, Peter Parker has the good life, and it’s only his depression that f*cks it up more and more. Nobody wants a crying superhero.

The message being sent here is the idea that if other people believe your life has more value than you do or if your life  looks good to other people then a mental health diagnosis like depression is unwarranted.  The funny thing about depression is that it does not discriminate.  You can be rich, poor, or middle class; you can have a supermodel wife; you can identify as homosexual, heterosexual or be against sexual labels; nerds, jocks, and artists; superheroes and super-villains are all susceptible to depression.  I think that depression or at least anxiety can potentially be exacerbated for forcing all these labels on people but that’s a discussion for another time.  If you are wealthy, “happily” married, or perhaps a simple wall-crawler who is dealing with depression reading this editorial certainly will not validated your experience.

Of course I must point out the description of Batman, one of two MAJOR American comic book icons known for being the darker side of the Batman/Superman coin.  Below is Mr. Lee’s diagnosis of the Dark Knight:

Just some of Batman’s mental illnesses to date include: Post-traumatic stress, depression, egomania, substance dependence, mild Munchhausen-by-proxy, anger management issues, OCD, sublimation of grief and bereavement disorder, coulrophobia, and split personality disorder. Matter of fact, Batman is so connected to his insanity that when you try to make him a gleeful character (1969 Batman) or a gay-esque ladies man (Batman & Robin), nobody respects the character and the re-imagining’s universally panned. Therefore, Batman is with out a doubt the most connected to his insane roots, and is literally bat sh*t crazy.

A few technical errors, there is no “split personality disorder” it is properly and clinically known as Dissociative Identity Disorder or DID.  (Please see my post called I’m Really Into DID.Also I am not sure how “mild” Munchausen by proxy syndrome manifests itself.  While we all may appreciate the pun (Batman is Batsh*t crazy) and I certainly took advantage of it for my post how demeaning.  Batman is certainly a dark character with a rough past.  If he were real there would be a number of issues a competent mental health clinician could address with him.  But I think it is worth noting that these issues were probably not laid out when he was created. 

Most mental health ‘disorders’ are common issues manifested to a point that they cause difficulty functioning within the confines of our societal expectations.  This also explains why mental health disorders are not standard across different communities.  Comic book characters, as with many fictional characters, are often exaggerations of human conditions.

Mentally Disordered

Intrinsically Disordered 8.5″x 11″ © William Donovan (http://www.fadingad.com/fadingadblog/?p=1222)

While researching for a paper I came across this article, Police Responses for Mental Health Assistance, written by Dr. Mark R. Pogrebin of the Graduate School of Public Affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and published in Psychiatric Quarterly [citation: Pogrebin, M.R. (1987) Police responses for mental health assistance.  Psychiatric quarterly, 58(1), 66-73.]. 

My paper is on the interactions of police officers with populations with mental illness.  Something that stood out to me immediately was a particular phrase Dr. Pogrebin used, see if you can spot it:

The observed increase in the number of mentally disordered people being arrested is believed to be the result of mental health efforts to deinstitutionalize psychiatric hospital patients over the last decade” (1987).

Some interesting issues are raised in that one sentence but the thing that stood out to me was “mentally disordered.”  Coming up with acceptable terms for any population is very difficult.  There is rarely consensus and someone is always offended.  Dr. Progrebin uses multiple phrases in his article including “mentally disordered,” “mentally ill,” and “citizens with mental health problems.”

I’m not saying I have an answer for the “correct” term.  I know it isn’t easy.  I think it is safe to say that “disordered” does not have any real positive connotations…but neither does “ill” and the “mentally ill” is used quite often. 

I have an anecdote that serves as an example of the struggle to come up with appropriate terminology.  A friend of mine and I were coming up with the title of a workshop that was ultimately called “Criminalization of People with Mental Illness.”  That title went through many different computations at one point, in a fit of frustration and the need to release I wrote this:

Criminalization of People With the experience of having a different mental awareness and capacity that adversely affects their way of interacting in the current accepted norms of society with regards to behavior currently deemed criminal by certain populations AKA crazy people get arrested!

Now that last part is absolutely not acceptable, the “AKA crazy people get arrested!” part.  The rest of it though written with some humor in mind and exceptionally wrong is full of qualifiers to make the language the least judgmental as possible.  It may have even been a slight critique of how social work school deals with such things.  Many people may look at that and think, “Whoa, this is crazy…oops.”  It does seem like overkill, I agree especially since I wrote it as a joke.  But I am fully aware that such things are not a joking matter and that language is important and can influence attitudes.

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