I’m still blown away by the Public Service Announcement about mental illness, http://www.bringchange2mind.org, but I’ve been thinking more extensively about why is now the right time to bring this message to consciousness? The truth is that we’ve been pushing mental illness to the background because it’s misunderstood. Even in this day and age people don’t know what bipolar disorder is until you say it’s what used to be called manic-depression. The common belief about schizophrenia is that it’s multiple personality disorder, not sure how that happened. Is this the right time for that public service announcement because we’ve made advances in treatment or public opinion?
Look at physical illnesses like Parkinson’s Disease, until Michael J. Fox announced his diagnosis people didn’t talk about the disease. Organizations that emerged to support Parkinson’s patients gained increased credibility when the Michael J. Fox foundation put money into research, advocacy, and support. Was it Michael J. Fox’s job to bring the disease to the general population’s consciousness? It certainly brought people out of hiding because they now had a visible community for support.
I’ve noticed that in the past two years, during the warm weather, there has been a dramatic increase in Walk-A-Thons for various illnesses. In most cases, it brings out those impacted by the disease both directly and indirectly. Organizations create public relations campaigns to educate the public in hopes of receiving donations. These walk-a-thons are very public announcements about illness. Those who walk self-identify to the world their personal health challenge. As I look back at the notifications I get, I don’t recall ever seeing one for a mental illness organization; they’ve all be physical illness organizations. This get’s back to the question, “When is the time right?”
Are we becoming a more tolerant or accepting people? Are we at the point where most of us have come in contact with someone who is facing a physical illness or mental illness? Does that personal experience make us more compassionate? Are we willing to create conversations about the challenges we or our loved ones are facing? If you have any thoughts on this please share them so we can expand the conversations!
Welcome to Caregiver Friday!!
If you haven’t been following the blog this week then you’ve missed out on learning about the new public service announcement (PSA) about mental illness. You can view the video at http://www.bringchange2mind.org and see not only the artistry in the piece, but the power of the message. So why am I writing about the PSA once again? Up till now I’ve been focusing on the message, the importance of bringing mental illness to our consciousness, and the courage of those who participated in the PSA. Now I want to turn my attention to one of the parents who accompanies her son in the PSA.
The woman is the mother of an adult son who is schizophrenic. When they interview the pair she tells about how they found out about their son’s disability. They had gone on vacation when they received an emergency call that their son was in a psychiatric hospital. They immediately rushed home, went to the hospital and proceeded to check him out not believing he was ill. Over the next few days the son’s symptoms surfaced in a way that the parents couldn’t deny the problem and he was re-admitted to the hospital. Why do want to live in the land of disbelief? How does it serve our world view? What happens when our assumptions about health are shattered?
This mother was well-meaning, loving, concerned and a host of other admirable characteristics, but like all of us, her blind spot got exposed. We all have it, that place just outside our consciousness that nags at us and gives us clues but we choose to ignore. When this happens, whether it’s a mental health or physical health challenge, the clues land at our feet and for some it takes a crisis to get everyone on the same page and to acknowledge the problem. I’m wondering if our blind spots get revealed on the health issue, do they become exposed in other areas of our lives?
We don’t like to think about mental illness because for many it conjures up images of Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest. Fortunately, our understanding of mental illness has progressed over the past thirty years. Treatments are more effective and less toxic, although side effects still remain a huge hindrance in maintaining the treatment protocol. We’re afraid, disgraced, and confused when a loved one is in a psychiatric hospital, but seem to be okay if the problem is physically based…why is that? How much of our own prejudices create the veil of disbelief? I want to be very clear, this is not about blame, but of consciousness. As Oprah say, “When we know better we do better”; just look at the loved ones in the PSA, you’ll see the transformation from disbelief to consciousness and acceptance!
I’ve been thinking a lot about the post from yesterday because it impacted me greatly. The idea that 1 in 6 Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness is astounding, and I’m a mental health professional. The biggest problem and I’ve seen in it my own family, we don’t talk about problems like depression and bipolar disorder so they stay closeted, but the signs are there and medication is prescribed and still the whispers. This doesn’t even take into account the genetic factor involved with any diagnosis.
The public service announcements outing mental health diagnoses is truly a piece of art. The fact that they didn’t use actors but real people with a diagnosis and their family/friends/support persons shows there is support when we take the illnesses seriously and get the right treatment. It always helps when you have star power behind the message and having Glenn and Jessie Close spearhead this campaign is amazing. I encourage you to go to the website http://www.bringchange2mind.org and not only watch the public service announcement but the side interviews with Ron Howard the director and the “real” people in the public service announcement.
The bigger question and this applies to both physical illness and mental illness is how do we begin the conversations. What if everyone in the world wore a t-shirt with the word(s) that signifies their own personal struggle. There has to be some way to begin leveling the playing field so that conversations can begin and we don’t create a caste system based on how serious one’s diagnosis is, within the grand scheme of things. We’re all “real” people and we have “real” problems. Facing any health challenge whether it be physical or mental health related is serious. We have to improve our filters when it comes to those who whisper behind our backs. Unfortunately, I believe it’s on those of us with a challenge that have to initiate the conversations and that’s never easy.
Start small, you don’t have to do a public service announcements. My personal example begins when I go out to dinner with friends/family. We all sit down and people offer me wine or other alcohol and I refuse. Their next question is often, “Are you in recovery?” That’s my opening, I explain that I have an auto-immune disease and the medication I take metabolizes in my liver and kidney and since I don’t want to add fuel to the fire I take my doctor’s recommendation and I don’t drink. It’s been 17 years…if nothing else all my friends know they always have a designated driver.
How will you start your conversation? I think this public service announcement is the beginning of something beautiful!
I was watching Good Morning America and they had a segment on mental illness. The guests were Glenn Close and her sister Jessie Close. They wanted to bring attention to the fact that 1 in 6 Americans have a mental illness. They created a public service announcement to bring this issue to the consciousness of everyone who sees the commercial.
The commercial takes place in Grand Central Station in New York City. We see the hustle and bustle and then two or three people walking together wearing t-shirts. The person with the mental illness is wearing a t-shirt with their diagnosis, and the family member/loved one wears on with their relation to the person with the mental illness. It’s a brave move, and one that takes a personal resolution to take on the illness and become your own advocate in the mental health system. The public service announcement also shed light on the fact that we often don’t know about someone’s mental illness, we attribute their behavior to stories we make up about them. It’s a courageous and necessary consciousness raising commercial. If you don’t see it on television, go to http://www.bringchange2mind.org.
As you know I focus on physical health challenges at http://www.survivingstrong.com. I have a question for you, “Would you be willing to wear a t-shirt out in public ( a very public venue) for all the world to see?” There are some illnesses where just leaving your house outs you and your diagnosis, but what about the more invisible illnesses? What about for those of you whose symptoms are very mild or only visible to those who know your diagnosis, would you be willing to wear a billboard on your t-shirt announcing to the world your own challenge?
This is how we bring about change, by creating consciousness raising programs like the one headed by Glenn and Jessie Close. They were willing to face the stigma associated with mental illness to get people talking. It got me immediately motivated to post this entry to begin the dialogue. It’s through connection and communication that we can build understanding and compassion for all who are facing a physical or mental health challenge. Go see the public service announcement and let me know how it impacted you. Will you do anything different after seeing the public service announcement?