Cue Putting My Psyche on the Writing in Minor Blog

In my first attempt at conquering the abyss that is this capstone course and specifically this project, I thought of what I want to do after graduation. I’ve always had my mind geared toward this topic in a I-need-a-job-or-I-have-no-place-to-live kind of way. But now, in my final semester, I’m starting to look back at the changes I went through in these past years and wonder, “what came of that?” Do I now know more of myself than I did before? Certainly. Do I now know more of what I want to do with my life and my career? Eh, debatable.

However, very recently, I have felt that I may want to work in mental health advocacy. I have suffered with depression and anxiety, giving mental health a personal value. In my experiences, I originally did not think of mental health as something real because I did not think it affected me. When it did affect me, I felt it was something only I dealt with. Through my time at Michigan I realized there was value in mental health and have come to the belief that mental health is important for everyone, not just people who have been diagnosed with mental illness.

Ok… now what? I have this personal experience and I have my opinion. But as my dear friend John Rubadeau would say most opinions stink (sans his usual vulgarity). But my opinion does not make a great project. So what does?

Something I’ve considered is the stigmatism of mental health and where that comes from. While there are many people of my parents’ generation in the mental health field there are also many people like my parents who adhere to the “suck it up” field of thought. Or in my father’s words “all that stuff is bullshit.”

*This Comedy Central skit is how I see these people*

Also, the images that are associated with mental illnesses or disorders is a compelling area. Freshman orientation, we were so lucky to watch a play put on about the many troubles that freshman endure. In this play, a girl with depression was shown to have made no friends and walked around hunched over with a black cape over her head. I cried silently in the crowd thinking that would be me. The commercials for depression medications show people with depression as stiff wind up dolls or stormy, hunched over grey people. I’d like to consider what the real image of these mental illnesses. What does mental illness look like in reality?

Where and how did mental health get seen as weakness or falsified? Who and what is going to change these stigmatizations?

9 thoughts to “Cue Putting My Psyche on the Writing in Minor Blog”

  1. Hi Hannah!

    Mental health and the social stigma surrounding it is something that has become more recognized and questioned in recent years. I myself have a hard time decoding the status of mental health stigmas in our society today. On one hand, most of my friends will readily admit to taking medication to improve mental health, and I feel like this willingness to accept mental illness as any other illness (put in too simple of terms) was not the case ten years ago. I believe that although it’s become more recognized and accepted, there are still stigmas attached to it, that in a sense, are contradictory to the seeming progress our society has made. For example, people are quick to diagnose people as “bipolar” when they have mood swings. Does this incorporation into everyday language represent a gross generalization and disrespect for true mental illness or a strange acceptance of it? I don’t think it’s the right way to accept it by any means, but it’s an interesting point.

    You mentioned commercials— I think you could also take a look at other forms of screen culture such as films! One that comes to mind is Silver Linings Playbook. You could incorporate something about the ways in which the film industry or even mass media has furthered the characterization of mental illness in some way or another. In doing so, I think it would be engaging to include the ways in which you may be able to connect your own experiences and the reactions you’ve experienced to such representations. Either way, I think it will provide valuable insight to everyone!

  2. I think these are wonderful observations that you’ve made, and it’s an issue that I don’t think can ever get too much attention.
    As someone who has a friend who was recently diagnosed with depression, an interesting observation for him was that he knew all of these symptoms were happening for years, but it never occurred to him that there was a reason there. He was not primed to think of his personal experiences and emotions as being indicative of a mental illness. And I think this is a major effect of the stigmatization that we see surrounding this issue.
    If we culturally encourage an understanding of mental illness as taboo and awkward, self-diagnosis is so much less likely. Which could, predictably, be very dangerous.
    I’ll be very excited to see where this goes.

  3. Hey Hannah, I think you mentioned some really important ideas concerning the state of mental illness in our society. There are huge misconceptions and stigmas surrounding it that I think largely stem from a lack of education about what mental illness really entails, and its complexities. The truth is we are still very much in a learning stage, which makes it hard for these misconceptions to be replaced. As someone with a sibling who has suffered from mental illness for a long time, I think one of the hardest parts to understand are the gray areas: What do we diagnose and label? Where and how do these labels become destructive? How to we support people who are suffering? There are plenty of societal norms that dictate how we should treat people with mental illness, but I think one thing that is lacking is the idea that people who are sick can overcome their illness and still lead normal lives, much the same way that people with physical ailments can. Starting to view mental illness as out of a person’s control, and being sensitive to how this can manifest in their behavior is an initial step that we can take. I look forward to seeing where you take these ideas because this is definitely an area that I feel strongly about and that needs more attention.

  4. Hi Hannah,

    Mental health education and awareness has recently become very important to me, but I also remember when I didn’t or couldn’t understand virtually any aspect of it. For example in one of my classes a couple of years ago a classmate told the class she had generalized anxiety disorder, but her descriptions didn’t make any sense to me. I couldn’t see how it was different from stress and I wrote it off. But not six months later anxiety happened to me – and I say happened because it felt like it came out of the blue and I feel even now like it lies dormant in me. Something I just didn’t have before, that now I have to live with. And it feels like that because the symptoms feel different – they’re physical, knots in my chest, rapid heartbeat, insomnia. And I get it now, or at least I understand my own and how it’s very different than general stress.

    I feel so much that people who just want to tell you to “Stop It” or that it’s bullshit just don’t get it in the way that someone who has it can. For example I feel like I get anxiety, but I still cannot fully fathom depression, or OCD, or split personality. And even within the one I feel I know, there’s differences in individuals in how it manifests itself. Is it possible to make an invisible disease visible? What does that look like? And how can that ultimately help people who are struggling?

    I’m also interested in the phenomenon of faking it til you make it in terms of mental health and how that method in my experience is often much more common than the ‘grey figures’ in depression commercials. What about the person who looks like she’s got it all together on the outside, but falls apart as soon they get home? What about the person who lashes out in anger and irritates the people that love them the most?

  5. This is really interesting and I was especially captivated by the question “what does mental illness look like in reality” question, and that could make for a really interesting audio/visual type project. It reminds me of the saying that unlike a broken bone, you can’t just diagnose a mental illness on an x-ray machine. While societal attitudes toward mental illness have evolved, we’re certainly not close to eliminating the stigmas that surround it, which is why your question above could be so fruitful. So, you could go the more establishment/research/academic route and do a project on the history of how mental health stigmas have changed, or you could do something slightly more creative that answers what mental illness looks like.

  6. Hello HAH-nnah!

    What stuck out to me most was your comment about “what does mental illness look like?” and my first thought was that some of those commercials and advertisements don’t always get it right. Mental illness (or, specifically, depression) looks like you or me or one of your professors or your best friend. Depression looks like Jim Carrey cracking a joke. It looks like Robin Williams smiling for the camera.

    Which is all my way of saying, at times, mental illness doesn’t look like anything. At least not in public. In my mind, mental illness “shows” itself most strongly in those moments when we are by ourselves. When we’re sitting alone after a perfectly normal – maybe even happy – day and can’t help but find ourselves sad despite it all. Or when we go for an extra bottle of beer even though no one’s drinking with us anymore. There is a difference between what mental illness looks like in public and in private, and I think this difference is something worth pointing out. I don’t know if you can make it your centerpiece (and I don’t think this aspect alone would do justice to mental illness) but I think it’s an incredibly important part of the discussion RE: what does mental illness look like?

    This is a topic I considered doing, so I’m really interested to see where it goes. Hope my advice has helped!

  7. Hannah,
    So looking at the comments above, I’m having a hard time giving you a fresh take on this issue that could spark some fresh thoughts and ideas. The last question struck me as insanely huge, so I’ve decided to focus on that to see if I can give you some perspective to help narrow it down.
    Mental health is a field that I have 0 experience with. I don’t know anything about it (which kind of proves your point right there). But where I’m going with this is that it’s gonna take a lot to change the stigma associated with mental health. What I’m envisioning is seeing how far we have come before tackling the fairly uncertain and unclear future regarding how we WILL perceive mental health.
    The thing that I’m coming up with is American Horror Story Season 2: Asylum. Homosexuality, nymphomania, and schizophrenia were all treated with electroshock therapy. Now, homosexuality has been de-medicalized and electroshock therapy is barbaric. We have taken leaps and bounds in the mental health field, all of which is documented and there for the taking. Thinking about the future, while bold and important, is less concrete and therefore harder to write about. Feel free to disregard theses thoughts or use them and abuse them! Good luck!

    -Sam

  8. Hi, Hannah,

    Thanks for sharing. I still stand by the idea that you could make a cool documentary or piece of reporting out of mental health on campus or college campuses at wide. I think you have really relevant and important ideas, and I would rather see them in a unique mode rather than a long research paper. I think that the material you’ll have to work with needs a visual element–maybe even photo journalism–that can really make impactful statements on mental conditions. I hope this goes well, because the project could be really relevant!

  9. Hi Hannah,

    I’ve had some adventures with mental health both personally and through watching my friends and loved ones suffer through it, and I agree that the stigma/misrepresentation of mental health generated by the media is really damaging. I wonder if you might consider showcasing people who live with mental illness instead of those who “suffer” from it. By that I mean that it seems as though commercials for anti-depressants or suicide hotlines always focus on very extreme low points in depressed individuals lives, but there isn’t as much emphasis placed on the little, daily struggles people work and persevere through. Maybe you could write vignettes about individuals of various mental illnesses in a collection of essays, both to highlight how their lives differs from those who don’t suffer from their particular illness and to point out that they’re not all to different when it comes down to it. Just an idea.

    I hope this helps, and please don’t hesitate to hit me up if you ever want to discuss this stuff further!

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