Throwback Review: It’s Kind of a Funny Story (Book, 2006)

Spoilers Lie Within

I really wanted to like this book. I know, that’s what everyone says. All the time. But I mean it, in the most sincere way. I’ve been wanting to read it for years, most of my friends have read it, and, the resurgence in popularity for The Perks of Being a Wallflower notwithstanding, it’s arguably the most visible recent novel with mental health and mental illness as a major theme. As the New York Times Book Review said, in words that will live on forever on the front cover of the paperback edition, “This is an important book.” My expectations were high.

Well, they were almost met.

I would say that, yes, this is an important book. Young-adult fiction that seriously and sensitively takes on the very real and human struggles that people the age of the reader face with their mental health is something we need a lot more of. On that level, this really succeeds. Vizzini threw in some charming statistics, just to make sure that his point wasn’t altogether missed: “One fifth of Americans suffer from a mental illness, and suicide is the number-two killer among teenagers,” protagonist Craig says at one point.

Vizzini presumably knows what he’s talking about; he was a patient (side note: there’s a school of thought that prefers the word “consumer” to patient, but as long as we use the word “patient” in the context of physical illness, I’m going to keep using it in this context) in a psychiatric hospital for five days, a fact of which we are reminded both on the back cover and in an italicized end-note opposite the novel’s last words. This knowledge lends some authenticity to the story, but also led me to the assumption that Craig was modeled almost completely after the writer himself.

Let’s just say that I have a stronger love-hate relationship with Craig Gilner than I remember having with any protagonist maybe ever. I get that he’s fifteen, so his emotional maturity has not exactly peaked, but damn, does he annoy me.

Now don’t jump at me right away. Craig faces some serious struggles throughout this book, and he does so with remarkable courage. He’s also compassionate, deeply so. I respect him. I also think he’s kind of a self-absorbed little dweeb.

I’m willing to concede that maybe it was just me projecting some of my less worthy emotions during my time in three different psych units, but I really got the sense that Craig thought of himself as better than his fellow patients. Like he was the voice of reason among them, or like his concern for them didn’t extend one moment past his discharge. I mean, he checked himself into the hospital, something most people would never be able to do for themselves, but once he’s there it feels like he thinks of himself as above the place, yet somehow also above the people who aren’t there with him. Again, he’s fifteen, and most of his reactions are pretty natural and realistic, but there’s something incredibly off-putting about the way he looks at and talks about the others in the hospitals with him. If it’s supposed to be a story of mental health disrupting the life of the relatable Everyman, I’d rather the Everyman not be some entitled little punk.

There were a few other little flaws that really irked me and held me back from enjoying what was, yes, an “important” book. It’s fair to assume that hospital policies changed between Vizzini’s stay in 2004 and the first of mine in 2011, but smoking, really? And Craig making it all the way to the unit with a cell phone and wallet in his pocket? Neither of these have any bearing on the plot, but anything that makes me roll my eyes is going to make its way into my review. There is one, though, that the plot relies on: no one in the staff seems to have any idea where any of the patients are at any given time. Where are the fifteen-minute checks with the flashlight and clipboard? It seems like Craig can sneak away long enough to do whatever he wants..

And that’s another thing. We didn’t need a romantic subplot. At all. Do we think so little of the “young-adult” reader that we don’t expect them to read without the tried-and-true protagonist/trusted long-time friend/mysterious new friend love triangle? Time in the hospital, at its best, is supposed to be a time of personal healing and renewal, and the romantic distraction detracts from both Craig’s time there and from what could have been some extremely person, introspective storytelling.

Oh which reminds me. I find it extremely hard to believe that Craig and Noelle would be put in the adult unit because there were renovations in the adolescent unit. Why not just transport them to another hospital where the adolescent unit is open?

And the parents were weird, weren’t they? I’ve never read more robotic dialogue in my life. Here’s what Mrs. Gilner says when she find out that her son has checked himself into the hospital:

“I thought I was a bad mother, but I’m a good mother if I taught you how to handle yourself. You had the tools to know what to do. That is so important. And they’re going to be great over there; it’s an excellent hospital. I’m coming right down — you want me to bring your dad?”

What? Where’s the parental fear, the questions, the motherly overreaction? She’s taking this way too well, and it really doesn’t sit well with the reader.

But enough nit-picking. A lot of this book is really brilliant. It’s a realistic and idiosyncratic look at depression through the mind of an extremely self-aware fifteen-year-old. It’s pretty flawed, but too spend too much time thinking about those flaws would be to miss the point. It tells an important story, and forces the readers to think about their own mental health, something most high school students would otherwise never give a moment’s attention to. And it doesn’t resort to scare tactics or shame-mongering to do so.

It sets the stage for some more literature on similar themes, some of which will be really great, some of which will be pretty awful, and most of which will slip under the radar. But breaking the silence is the first step, and Funny Story picks up right where Wallflower left off in that territory. Vizzini’s going to write something really incredible someday, and even if he doesn’t, this book isn’t too bad of a legacy to leave behind.

And no, I haven’t seen the movie.

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“Insane Deals” and Other Problematic Selling Points

It’s the same every year: no retailer wants to miss out on the holiday sales boost, so they need new and exciting ways to tell us about their new and exciting deals. Two words that never seem to go out of vogue? “Insane” and “crazy.”

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(Conway ad, 2012)

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(Sears Website, 2012)

Let’s get one thing straight: “crazy” and “insane” are mental illness slurs. They serve to oppress, deride, and dismiss. They’re words that are used by people who don’t have enough education to have a real talk about mental health. They get used in the set-ups of insulting psych ward jokes, or to describe unthinkable crimes, and, apparently, to move merchandise. Their connotations tie directly to the worst stereotypes and misconceptions held about people with mental illness, and they drag up every unpleasant emotion associated these words every time they’re used. They can, and should, be avoided, and using them toward another person is inexcusable.

So what about using them in ads, promotions, and point-of-purchase media, like many stores and brands have? They’re not actually calling anyone crazy, so where’s the harm? Well, it’s a gray area. To me, it’s all about scope, context, and what message you’re actually sending. When ads like these use the words, what they’re really saying is something like, “These savings are so great, we’d have to be crazy to offer them!” In fact, in case you think I’m exaggerating, there was a Volkswagen ad back in the good old days of 1986 reading “To offer these deals we’d have to be committed.”To offer deals like this...

“Crazy” and “insane” aren’t inherently evil words, and using them doesn’t make you a bad person. When you say you “just had the craziest day,” you aren’t trying to insult anyone, and the odds that anyone’s feelings are actually hurt are pretty slim. The chances that you’re making someone uncomfortable trend a bit higher. I cringe every time I hear them, especially in the case of “insane.” I was recently at a conference where a speaker made a room full of people audibly gasp by letting “crazy” slip in a fairly innocent context. We didn’t hold it against her, but the tension was there.

So it’s concerning, if not outright annoying, to see them used in nationwide ads and posted all over stores. I don’t need to be reminded of the social struggles faced by people with mental illness when I just wanted to buy a sweater.

Royce White: The most important story in sports?

Royce White tweet

When Royce White was picked in the first round of the 2012 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets, he already had years of hype behind him, having led the Cyclones in points, assists, rebounds, steals, and blocked shots during his sophomore years of college, and carrying his team to a perfect record in his senior year of high school. Now the Rockets are 25 games into the regular season, and their potential new star hasn’t played a single minute of a single game, instead becoming the poster boy for the complicated relationships between mental health and employment and mental health and masculinity.

Even before the draft, White came forth to admit that he is living with an anxiety disorder, becoming the first prospect to do so, according to Sports Illustrated reporter Pablo S. Torre. The potential NBA superstar did so, he said, because he wanted to “start helping people.” If bringing light to an issue in a community that’s never really talked about it before constitutes helping people, and it does, then he’s definitely accomplished what he set out to. But is he bringing real change?

Royce White was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder a few years ago. Let’s just say he can’t stop talking about it. Take a look at his Twitter. Read any of the (very few) interviews he’s given. His goal is one that he shares with myself and many others, including most of my readers: raising awareness. And he’s definitely done that. The high-pressure hyper-masculine world of sports, where mental health is almost never talked about, is talking about it now. The understanding that mental illness, like mental illness, is not a personal weakness or failure is being made, slowly.

I had the pleasure of meeting sports journalist Pablo Torre about a month ago and hearing him speak about the ways that sports culture feeds into mental health stigma. First, athletics and masculinity are almost synonymous. In both, people are expected to fight through the pain, revealing no emotion or fear. A man who shows signs of weakness or imperfection runs the risk of being seen as less of a man, and the same is true of an athlete. We see that physical injury is celebrated: an athlete who gets hurt and gets back on the field is a hero. The hit he took- his moment of fearlessness- is played again and again. The same is not possible in the case of mental illness; that “tangible proof”, which Torre described as “necessary” in the sports culture, simply doesn’t exist. This leaves fans, fellow athletes, and policymakers to create their own explanations: is the illness just an excuse, they wonder. A cry for pity or attention? A sign of weakness?

So for all the support that White is getting as an outspoken mental health advocate, there’s plenty of hate going around, too. And confusion. And well-meaning belittlement. And it begs the question: Is White really going about this the right way?

I’m 100% ready to give him the benefit of the doubt on his approach to raising awareness. I can’t say that I know how the Rockets are treating him, or how much effort is actually being made on both sides of the situation to come to an agreement about how White’s anxiety should be handled by the NBA. I’m in no position to say who’s right or wrong, but personal experience tells me that most employers and institutions, especially larger ones, are highly under-equipped to accommodate for mental health needs.

Which is why I’m troubled by unforgiving reports like this one that accuse White of “playing the martyr” with his diagnosis, and gives full credit to the NBA. “Most teams in the NBA would never give White this kind of special treatment,” the writer says. But what White is asking for isn’t “special” treatment; it’s fair treatment. He’s asking for mutual respect, and the understanding that he’s operating under limitations. He’s asking that the NBA implement a protocol for players living with diagnoses like his.

To be fair, though, he’s been vague about what this “protocol” really means. This piece, which also displays some pro-NBA bias, makes light of White’s anxiety while making much of his Tweeting. It’s true that the athlete hasn’t been particularly specific about his expectations from the NBA, but again, we here on the outside of the situation don’t really have the necessary information to judge whether White and the NBA have been fair to each other. One thing we do know is that his team has demanded that he see their therapist, rather than his own, who he has been seeing for years.

The Royce White situation has some people wondering: are certain careers outside of the reasonable realm of possibility for people with certain conditions? As a mental health advocate, my instant answer is no. But many insist that the risk should not have been taken on drafting White. We all have limitations for which we must account in any choice we make in life, but these distinctions are ours to make. Whether Royce White is currently capable of fulfilling his contractual obligations to the NBA is not something I can know, but I applaud him for his courage in openly discussing his diagnosis. I sincerely hope that his story leads to greater workplace accommodations for people living with mental illness, and that, should playing for the Houston Rockets remain his dream, he is able to fulfill it.

Best of 2012: Mental Health in Music

Music and mental health go pretty much hand-in-hand. Music “soothes the soul,” keeps us centered, and lets us express to the world who we are.

As 2012 comes to a close, the time seems right to honor some songs that contribute honest, sensitive, and meaningful statements on mental wellness and illness. While mental health plays a role in the meaning of all music, these are songs that are about mental health in a more explicit or specific way. They’re all by artists whose music runs the gamut in terms of subject matter, and most of them didn’t write or perform them with mental health advocacy in mind. Through their honesty and remarkable talent, though, they are all advocates, and I thank them.

Here are my picks for the top three songs about mental health in 2012:

1. P!nk – The Great Escape

The superstar (read: future legend) who told us we were “fucking perfect” in 2011 has now given us this album track, an urgent but gentle ballad that asks us to do one (sometimes) simple thing: live.

2. Elizaveta – Dreamer

Without question one of the most beautiful and hopeful songs I’ve ever heard. Elizaveta’s full debut album, Beatrix Runs, is my pick for the title of best album of the year.

3. Fiona Apple – Every Single Night

Anyone who’s ever dealt with overwhelming anxiety knows exactly what alternapop veteran Fiona Apple means when she sings “Every single night’s a fight with my brain.”

And some other favorites, in no particular order:

fun. – Carry On

One of the ultimate “I know you’ve got it rough, but please just keep going” songs.

Kelly Clarkson – Dark Side

In what is more or less a companion piece to her masterpiece “Maybe,” Clarkson sings one for the people who know what it’s like to be something other than yourself sometimes.

Of Monsters and Men – Little Talks

They were mysteriously snubbed by the Grammys, but maybe being on this list will mean something to Icelandic folk artists Of Monsters and Men, who broke through with this catchy duet about grief. Its exact meaning is unclear, but, after all, “the truth is varied.”

Kacey Musgraves – Merry Go ‘Round

That this dark and honest piece has become the hit that it has marks a major shift for country radio, which just a few years ago would never have welcomed a song about drug addiction by a new artist. There’s no happy or hopeful ending, just the all-encompassing and all-important question of what the pressures of today’s American life mean for all of our well-being.

Ed Sheeran – The A Team

A heartbreaking tale of addiction and homlessness

Lauren O’Connell – Things are Alright

Under-recognized singer-songwriter Lauren O’Connell is at her rawest in this honest and pained guitar-and-voice-and-nothing-else- piece about depression. Sometimes you just need to know that someone else gets it…

Florence + The Machine – Shake It Out

… And sometimes you need someone to kick you back into shape, like Florence Welch does with this explosive and empathetic hit about coming to terms with your flaws and limitations and starting over.

Alabama Shakes – Hold On

Rounding out the pack is a bluesy-folk ode to the power of perseverance from one of the year’s most promising new artists.

Be sure to leave your comments below.. Are there any songs you wish I had included?

I Watched C-SPAN Once

… or, What Our Representatives in Congress are Saying About Mental Health

Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Tim Murphy (R-PA) appeared on C-SPAN’s Washington Today to discuss the state of federal mental health programs post-Newtown. The two Congressional House representatives are the co-chairs of the Mental Health Caucus, a 89% Democrat faction of Congress working to educate and advocate to their colleagues and the the nation on issues related to mental health. The one-hour segment, in which the two congresspersons answered questions from callers and the host whose name I have no interest in looking up, left me with mixed feelings.

First things first, I think Grace Napolitano is awesome. She drafted the Mental Health in Schools Act of 2011, which was referred to a congessional committee on February 17 of that year, where it’s been sitting around collecting co-sponsors (56 so far, all Democrat), waiting for a possible vote. She’s outspoken about mental health issues, and incredibly well-educated about them. All things considered, she’s one of the best allies we’ve got.

Tim Murphy, with three decades of experience as a psychologist behind him, also provides the mental health expertise that Congress needs if it’s going to make any progress.

While bipartisan consensus on the importance of mental health has not yet been achieved, the two co-chairs were in agreement that mental health services are not meeting our current need. $4.5 billion have been cut from state mental health budgets in the past five years, and while some of this has been the result of financial necessity, it is possible to work within budget limitations without cheating those in need, the representatives contend.

I applaud Napolitano for mentioning and explaining stigma. She blamed the fear and confusion that surround mental health for Congress’ failure to get together on the issue. She clearly had a greater understanding of that fact than did Murphy, who repeatedly implied that violence was the primary reason for the importance of mental healthcare.

Obviously, talking about violence was inevitable: the Newtown tragedy was, after all, the focus of the discussion. But Napolitano was able to bring viewer attention to the “big picture,” so I was instantly turned off by Murphy’s unwillingness to do the same. As I said in a previous post, tragedies like that in Newtown have a way of making people “miss the point” in the national mental health conversation, so I’m skeptical of any media coverage of Newtown insisting on discussing mental health just because of Newtown.

Murphy expressed that he’s very interested in taking a line-by-line look at the federal mental health budget. Taking a very serious look at where money earmarked for mental health is probably absolutely necessary at this point. Beds are closing, employers aren’t always able to provide insurance coverage for mental health services, educators and police officers who deal with mental health every day don’t have the proper training. It’s possible, if not definite, that the money we’re already spending can mitigate some of this if we get it sorted out and headed in the right direction. Whether this will actually happen, though, is anyone’s guess.

Other areas of reform mentioned in the interview included prisons, where the majority of inmates need, but don’t receive, psychological services. The complicated interplay of biology, education, parents, media, and government in mental health was briefly discussed as an area needing more understanding and research. Above all, the chairpersons agreed, the public needs to be educated.

That an active mental health caucus in Congress even exists is a positive sign. That there are officials voting on our laws who care about mental health, and know what they’re talking about, should help me and advocates like me sleep a little better at night. The changes we need can only happen, though, if we all want them for the right reasons.

(Watch the Washington Today interview here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/RPAR)

(Track Napolitano’s Mental Health in Schools Act (HR-751) here: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/hr751)

Open Letter to Wayne LaPierre

Mr. Wayne LaPierre:

I am writing to express my astonishment and disgust toward your words in today’s NRA press conference. While I, like hundreds of millions of others, share your sense of grief and confusion in these days following the tragedy in Newtown, I am especially concerned and hurt by the insensitive, dehumanizing, and altogether toxic language you used in your commentary today.

In the year since I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I’ve become very active as an advocate for mental health issues. Many of my friends have mental health diagnoses, and I’ve seen firsthand the variety of ways that mental illness affects people’s lives. As difficult as these health struggles have been for so many of us, the greatest challenge that many of us face is stigma.

Stigma is social disapproval that results in fear, shame, silence, and prejudice. People with mental illness face stigma every day. We are thought of, and treated as, violent, inferior, and fodder for mockery. Perceptions like this come from miseducation, generations of socialization, and simple assumption.

In your statement today, you lamented that the federal government has yet to a comprehensive database of people with mental illness. This is necessary, you implied, so that we can know who the “killers” are.

The problem with your suggestion, Mr. LaPierre, is that we live in a society where people with mental illness are often already marginalized and made to feel ‘different.’ The vast majority of people with mental illness are fully capable of living full and successful lives, but that fact is lost on people like yourself who truly see us as Different. Loss of self-esteem and social isolation, both of which are already a part of life with mental illness, result directly from the stigma. More dangerously, stigma leads to reluctance to seek treatment.

Furthermore, mental illness, like any other illness or health condition, is not a character flaw. It is not a personal failure. It is not something that one brings upon oneself. To place someone on a database of potential “killers,” likely holding that person back from acquiring a job, adopting a child, or living a comfortable life, because a health condition beyond that person’s control is unconscionable. What you are suggesting would threaten to needlessly ruin the lives of tens of thousands.

Not once in your statement did you mention the need for treatment and support for people with mental illness. Rather, you called us “killers,” when we’re more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators. You used words like “monsters,” “deranged,” and “evil,” words that dehumanize and demean, words with unfortunate and long-reaching cultural associations with mental illness. These are words that oppress, and they hold back progress.

I’m not asking you for an apology, or even a response. I only hope that you consider this letter the next time you publicly discuss issues of mental health.

Jared Wolf
12.21.12

(To readers: the full transcript of LaPierre’s statement is currently on nra.org)

Should TIME Apologize?

On December 3, 2012, TIME.com published a report on the completion of edits to the newest edition of the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The new manual, the DSM-5, is scheduled for publication in May 2013.

John Cloud’s article on the development, titled in part “Redefining Crazy,” is misleading, demeaning, and unprofessional in its presentation of information related to mental health. The title alone is highly stigmatizing, making use of a highly offensive mental health slur with no consideration of its meaning. Referring to people with mental illness as “crazy,” especially in a journalistic or academic context, is unconscionable.

Furthermore, the article makes frequent and vague reference to critics of mental health diagnoses, without balancing these opinions with the evidence that support and validate the diagnoses.

The piece also relies on dismissive and insulting descriptions of the disorders described. According to cloud, binge eating disorder is “eating an entire pint of Ben & Jerry’s,” and excoriation and hoarding are “reality show disorders.” Cloud’s attempts at humor are highly inappropriate in this context, and have the potential to be extremely harmful where people struggling with their mental health are already mocked and subjected to stereotypes.

Several readers have commented on the irresponsibility of the article, and have taken their demand for an official apology to petition-building site Change.org, where it has gained 245 signatures to date.

It is my opinion that TIME should issue an apology for this article, and that John Cloud, who has a history of misleading and stigmatizing reporting on mental health, should undergo sensitivity education before being allowed reporting on mental health for the magazine and its website again.

What do you think? Are the petition writers and I being too critical in our reading of the article, or are our criticism warranted?

See the petition here: http://www.change.org/petitions/time-magazine-apologize-for-the-article-redefining-crazy

Our Mental Health Conversation: Post Newtown

Tragedies like the shooting in Newtown tend to lead to discussion of mental health. While it seems appropriate that the silence be broken on this issue, it concerns me that this is often the only context in which the conversation is happening.

Mental healthcare needs to be readily available and accessible to everyone, and that need is clearly not being met. That’s a crucial element of the conversation, and probably the part that comes up the most. What’s being lost, though, is that ‘everyone’ means everyone. It’s not for the “crazy” few, or the “dangerous” Other. It makes me cringe to violence and mental illness treated as synonymous. I think that a willingness to acknowledge that mental health affects all of us, that we’re all human and flawed and need help, is missing from the conversation.

Hindsight is 20/20, and so the media are quick to comment on the warning signs Lanza displayed in the time leading up to the incident. We don’t know much about Lanza’s mental health history, and while I’m not comfortable with any kind of specific speculation, it’s obvious that he wasn’t well. Nobody could have definitively known far ahead of time what he was planning to do, but it should have been apparent years ago that he needed help. I don’t know what attempts, if any, to seek help for Adam were made, or why they did not succeed, but it’s likely that some combination of the typical attitudes toward treatment: that it’s ineffective/unnecessary, that it’s “for someone else, not me/my child/my friend/people in a nice town like this” was at play, as well as the fact that even people who want treatment often go through a slow and frustrating process to get it.

The conversation about mental health needs to address that mental healthcare and support are necessary for reasons that extend miles beyond preventing horrific incidents like this one. Yes, seeing an end to mass shootings is a potential best-case outcome to improving the availability of, and public willingness to accept, mental healthcare. But we can’t simplify the Newtown shooting and similar events to matters of mental illness (and vice versa – we can’t equate mental illness with Lanza’s acts), and to do so only further distorts our cultural associations with mental health, perpetuating those harmful attitudes.

This is obviously an extremely complex issue, and what I’ve written here is just an introductory look at an idea about which I intend to write much more. The bottom lines are that:

1. The mental healthcare system is not equipped to meet demand. We cannot allow anyone’s ability to live a fulfilled and productive life slip through the cracks.

2. Changing the general cultural perception of mental health is a major obstacle in achieving progress in mental health treatment. We as individuals need to honestly and fully address the way we see and talk about mental health: what stereotypes are we aware of? To what degree do we believe them? Is this affecting the way we see and treat others? Does it affect the way I see and react to my own struggles? Why is this harmful? It is everyone’s responsibility to work toward a better personal understanding of mental health.

Introduction

Despite the progress that’s been in understanding mental health in all of its aspects, the fact remains that the issue is extremely stigmatized. Mental health and illness affect everyone, but most are reluctant to discuss it, and do so with a sense of fear and shame. The sources of this stigma are numerous and complicated. Generations of socialization, a natural fear of illness, and the tendency to shun the misunderstood are all partially to blame. There’s another element at play, though, that’s not being sufficiently addressed: the media.

Media messages, as we all know, are everywhere. We look to them for entertainment, information, distraction, and guidance. They infiltrate our consciousness, and shape our culture. This puts them in an incredibly powerful position as a force for major social change.

As a student of communications and a member of campus mental health advocacy group Active Minds, my mission, both now and in my future career, is work with media to move them in the right direction on mental health.

Having experienced struggles with my own mental health, I’ve frequently been surprised by the ways that public perception of mental health often differs from reality. It’s alarmingly common to think of one’s own mental health as infallible, while placing judgment on those who don’t meet this impossible expectation. Stereotypes of people with mental illness as incompetent, weak, or even dangerous are not only common, but culturally accepted. Looking to the media, it doesn’t take long to find out where these false notions come from.

Firstly, references to mental health in the media, be they fiction or journalistic, focus almost exclusively on illness over wellness, as if it were a rare phenomenon. The reality that one in four people live with mental illness, and that it can affect anyone, is too often ignored in favor of sensationalized portrayals, often with an emphasis on violence.

Also common in the media are exploitations of mental health for humor. While there’s humor in even the darkest of situations, attempts at comedic treatment of mental illness are frequently dehumanizing and toxic. Having been a victim of stereotypes in the past, I’m concerned and unsettled by the frequency with which words like “crazy” and “psycho” are thrown about. Depictions of people with mental illness as inferior and deserving of mockery reinforce the notion that they are an acceptable target. Not only does this prevent many people from seeking the help they need, but it closes down the mental health conversation that we all need to be having. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, over two thirds of people with a diagnosable mental illness don’t seek the help they need.

I became personally interested in the effects of the media on mental health perception after beginning to recover from my own bipolar disorder. In first two years of college, during which my symptoms reached a terrifying peak, I spent time as a patient in three psych wards, worked with several doctors, and took a medical leave from school in order to get myself well. It was a difficult and unexpected process, but a necessary one, and one that I’m grateful to be reaching the other end of. Looking back, I can see that my misconceptions and shame held me back from getting help sooner.

The more I’ve learned about mental health, both my own and in general, the more aware I’ve become of media images that work against the mission of ending stigma. As a student of communication, I strongly feel that collaboration between media and mental health advocates would be beneficial to work of both parties.

It is with that in mind that this blog sets forth to catalog and discuss media coverage and depictions of mental health and related issues. I’m hardly an expert, but I hope that at the very least this blog’s posts can serve as a jumping-off point for some interesting and relevant discussion.

So please participate! We all have a voice in ending stigma, and I’m here to help you make yours heard!

12.12.12

Jared Wolf

(The above post was adapted from a guest commentary at the request of The Ithacan for its December 5, 2012 edition. The commentary was not published). 662F6FATWYVG