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!”



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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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.

MY Schizophrenic!

I currently work, as a social work intern, at Legal Aid Society (LAS).  LAS is a non-profit public defender agency (AKA law firm).  Here is their mission:

The Legal Aid Society is a private, not-for-profit legal services organization, the oldest and largest in the nation, dedicated since 1876 to providing quality legal representation to low-income New Yorkers. It is dedicated to one simple but powerful belief: that no New Yorker should be denied access to justice because of poverty.

The Society handles 300,000 individual cases and matters annually and provides a comprehensive range of legal services in three areas: the Civil, Criminal and Juvenile Rights Practices. Unlike the Society’s Criminal and Juvenile Rights Practices, which are constitutionally mandated and supported by government, the Civil Practice relies heavily on private contributions.

My fancy intern cubicle opens to a main hallway where everyone seems to like to chat.  Maybe it’s because it’s between the kitchen and the bathrooms….?  Earlier today I head two attorneys walking by while in conversation, nothing new.  They stopped just out of sight and I heard one of the attorneys state

“My schizophrenic!  Who beat the nurse.”

Then the conversation continued but I didn’t catch much more of it because I had quickly grabbed a piece of scrap paper to write that one quote down so I would remember to blog about it.

“My schizophrenic.”  My schizophrenic!?  Really!?  We have taken the person out of it completely and on top of that they are YOUR’s.  Just wildly insensitive.  But I suppose these things may slip when making a joke or a point.  Unfortunately this client was entirely defined by the mental illness they may have been diagnosed with AND the negative behavior they took part in that may or may not have been related to that mental health diagnosis.  

Now I am making the assumption that the “schizophrenic” in question is a LAS client and that this attorney has been representing this individual.  I find it a little unnerving that the person paid to “defend” me would talk about me to colleagues in such a way.  Perhaps the attorney will still do an awesome job on behalf of his client but as an outsider I was caught off guard.

The unfortunate thing is that we tend to define people by their illnesses or the aspects of their identities that may set them apart, sometimes the illness is not considered an illness by everyone.  I don’t think I have heard of an instance when a Doctor has referred to their patient as “My cancer” or “My flu.”  Although due to my extensive experience in the medical field (AKA watching Grey’s Anatomy) I do know that surgeons may refer to their patients as the procedures they are about to have or have had such as “My appendectomy” or “My tumor removal.”  

So this issue of taking the PERSON out of it is not unique to mental health but I fear it is more rampant there.  “My schizophrenic,” “I work with schizophrenics,” “I work with bi polar adults,” etc.  I believe this is something most if not all people are guilty of whether it is in regards to mental illness or something else.

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.

Section 8

Who is this lovely young thing?

Corporal (later Sergeant) Maxwell Q. Klinger from M*A*S*H, played by Jamie Farr.  I mentioned M*A*S*H in an earlier post.  It is a very important show for my family.  Klinger was a fun character, he often served as comic relief, at least for the beginning of the series.  The method with which he served as comic relief was through his particular way of trying to get out of the war.  During the majority of the series this character dressed in women’s clothing and uniforms in an effort to get discharged on a Section 8, when someone in the US military is judged mentally unfit for service.  It’s no longer in use but “He’s a Section 8” was, apparently, something said often at the time, whether a person received a Section 8 or not.  Those accused of “sexual perversion” often received a Section 8.

Originally Klinger was going to be an effeminate gay man, according to Wikipedia citing the book Watching M*A*S*H, Watching America.  It was decided that having Klinger be heterosexual and wear dresses in an attempt to get a Section 8 would be more interesting.  

Using mental illness as a tool or an excuse to get out of a bad or, at the very least, an undesirable situation.  There is an interesting mix of themes here.  I doubt it was a coincidence that the M*A*S*H producers decided that a man attempting to get a Section 8 would wear dresses.  Cross-dressing and homosexual behavior (which are neither linked nor mutually exclusive incidentally), these actions would have qualified an individual as “mentally unfit.”  

So this show (which I LOVE) took advantage of mental illness by using it as a tool for comic relief with a character who is PRETENDING to have a mental illness.  But it ALSO decided to play into the institutionalized homophobia of the time (and yes, I’m aware that it was a different time).  

Again, I love M*A*S*H but I definitely believed, growing up, that Klinger would wear dresses so people would think he was crazy so he could get out of the war.  It is worth noting that eventually Klinger stopped wearing dresses and was the only main character in the end to decide to stay in Korea.

The Craziest Characters on TV

The Craziest Characters on TV at DishTV

No better way to encourage acceptance and understanding then making a “who’s who” list of characters embodying social stigma.  I’ll admit that I enjoy categorizing and making lists: my favorite Greek gods and goddesses, top 10 movie villains, etc.  So why not a list of TV’s craziest?  DishTV did it in a “critical” way by addressing the way TV handles these characters (handles?  maybe deals with?  nope, sounds bad too…………………….Addresses!  Addresses these characters!):

Like many other areas of concern, Hollywood really does a poor job at portraying mental illness. There are some exceptions, of course, but for the most part TV shows turn problems like Asperger’s Syndrome or Multiple Personality Disorder into a sensationalized and often “zany” condition. Yet, having characters being pumped down through your dish TV signal who are mentally ill does serve at least one positive purpose, and that is raising awareness of those conditions.

Did you notice the plug for DishTV in that paragraph?

The first person they mention is my recent favorite, Tara of United States of Tara.  

Tara. Tara Gregson is the title character for a relatively new program on Showtime. This character suffers from multiple personality disorder, and during the course of the program she’ll move from her identity as a mother to “Buck,” a beer-loving redneck man, or to one of her other identities. Multiple personality disorder (also formerly called “Dissociative Identity Disorder”) makes for great TV plots, but it’s also easy to become almost cartoonish.

Cartoonish.  Okay I’ll take it…for now.

The third character they mention is Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory.

Doctor Sheldon Cooper from Big Bang Theory. Jim Parsons’ portrayal of the brilliant – yet annoyingly quirky – physicist has won several awards. Although no diagnosis has been discussed on the show, it’s readily apparent that Sheldon suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome. The show’s portrayal is occasionally cartoonish, but Sheldon remains a somewhat enjoyable character as well.

This description is very interesting.  First off the show has not actually discussed an official diagnosis…but the mental health specialists at DishTV took care of that.  CLEARLY the character of Dr. Cooper SUFFERS from Asperger’s Syndrome.  Am I saying their diagnosis is wrong? No, I’m not expert enough to call such a thing…not like they are.  Also apparently one who has Asperger’s is suffering.  Now I shouldn’t be harsh on this, I am in fact in social work school and we are taught not to use such language.  The clinicians at DishTV, though qualified to diagnose, may not have gained that same awareness.  If Sheldon is an enjoyable character, and from what I’ve seen of the show he is a successful and confidant individual with a pseudo-girlfriend who bears a striking resemblance to early nineties TV icon, Blossom, then how is he suffering?  By the way…cartoonish again.

Lastly they decided to step into sacred territory!  Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H, a family favorite in my house.

Doctor Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H*. Few who saw the final episodes of this show will forget how Hawkeye struggled with depression, even to the point of psychosis, at the end of the Korean war. While this portrayal is dated in terms of the actual psychological ideas being tossed around, it still remains a powerful look at what depression does to a person.

Again the DishTV researchers have assessed the change through time of “the actual psychological ideas being tossed around.”  And yes, depression can have a very powerful effect on an individual.  So can being in the middle of a war-zone.  So can witnessing a woman smother her child to keep it quiet.  Perhaps there is more to someone’s change in behavior then depression.  No mention of trauma’s role in Hawkeye’s reactions.  DishTV specialists…I’m disappointed, things are not that simple.  By the way…no asterisk after the ‘H’ my friends.

Try not to pick on the mental illness

Click here to read the New York Times article: The Four (at least) Faces of Tara

This article was written about my new favorite show, United States of Tara.  In the article one of the creators is interviewed:

“I was nervous at the outset,” Ms. Cody said. “The pilot couldn’t be ‘sitcomy’ but, at the same time, it had to be funny. It was a big challenge to find the humor in everyday life and not poke fun at the disorder. And I wanted to be as sensitive as possible.”

It’s an interesting challenge Ms. Cody was facing.  She wanted to make an engaging and interesting TV show that would include a woman diagnosed with DID while not making fun of the disorder or those who are diagnosed with it.

The article compares the show with other media excursions into the realm of DID.  These include the Farrelly brothers’ Me, Myself & Irene, a movie I could not stand before I knew anything about mental health issues; Sybil, starring Sally Field and perhaps the most recognized film dealing with DID; and The Three Faces of Eve, which perhaps overshadows Sybil as the most recognizable film dealing with this topic.

The article goes on to say the creators and executives believe they found a good balance describing it as “a combustible mix of humor, morbid fascination, and empathy.”  Though I’m uncomfortable with ‘morbid fascination’ I can’t deny that it is a strong draw for many to shows like United States of Tara.

This article also mentions Showtime’s other programs featuring “deeply flawed” characters such as Dexter, a show about a serial killer and Californication about a sex addict.  It seems to be a fad to feature characters with some form of mental health issue.  Dexter, a serial killer is the protagonist as he justifies his killings in a way that the audience is usually able to sympathize with and Californication features a character who is off-putting and charming at the same time so one can look past his promiscuity.  Neither have any focus on treatment, to my knowledge, the way United States of Tara does.

I really have no conclusion.  I just find it interesting.  Mental illness equals “deeply flawed” characters and they seem to be quite prominent at the moment.

Mental Illness in Media

Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness was written for Psych Central and seems pretty self explanatory.  Mental illness does not come off well in the media.  An example described in the article I never heard about was Wonderland.  The tag-line on this advertisement alone is a little frustrating as someone going into the mental health field.  It’s invasive language and harkens back to the negative impressions of mental health professionals.  The show apparently perpetuated the view that those with mental illness are prone to criminal behavior, dangerous to society, and violent.  One thing the article points out is how groups like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) criticized the series’s “theme of hopelessness.”  Something that would reinforce the view that those with mental illness should be separated from society since there is “no hope” that they will be able to “fit in” to society.  “Quotation marks” help me to point out possible absurdities…and quote directly from the article…you can figure out which is which.

We live in a world where media dominates.  Most people own a TV, computer, phone, mobile device (iPad, iPod, iDon’tKnowWhatElse), DVD player, TiVo/DVR, or some combination of all of the above.  Music, movies, TV shows, and books (though possibly to a dwindling extent) are where we get a LOT if not MOST of our information on any given topic.  If these sources portray mental illness as a dangerous and hopeless thing, then that is the assumption most people will operate off of.  Get those crazies off the street like they do in Wonderland, Law & Order, and CSI.  Also if you commit a crime, especially a “bad” one like a sexual crime or a crime against a child you must be crazy, a category we are willing to lump a LOT of people in from Jeffrey Dahmer to a depressed housewife (or househusband for that matter).

I wish I could say more but this article is pretty thorough.  Please check it out.  I may revisit it in a later post…we’ll see.

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