Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mental Health Advocacy -- The Funner Version


Okay, last week was weird.  That's what you get for reading a mental health blog written by an Episcopal priest.  You never can tell when Jesus might interrupt with, No, what would I really do?






As it happens, that is where Gandhi got his program for freedom fighting, from Jesus.

First they ignore you.
Then they laugh at you.
Then they fight you.
Then you win.

There's a Lenten meditation for you.  Overlay Gandhi's road map on the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Gandhi taught us to do what Jesus would do, what he really did do.

But not all of you are Christians.  Not all of you follow The Way.  Not all of you even follow my train of thought!  What does death and resurrection have to do with mental health advocacy?

Well, never mind.  The post stands on its own, as the tried and true program for addressing oppression, the institutional arrangements that support an unjust system.

This week's post turns to a different path, what we think of as stigma-busting.  But I have come to suspect that the word stigma itself conveys the stigma it is trying to bust.  It directs attention away from the stigmatizer and toward the stigmatizee.

No, what I am talking about is flat-out prejudice, the irrational thoughts and feelings of individuals.  Focus on the person who has irrational thoughts and feelings.  How can we help him/her get over these nonproductive and painful experiences?

This path parallels last week's -- we're all headed in the same direction.  But this one you can travel while wearing designer shoes.  In fact, designer shoes might just be the ticket!

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

First step, come out.

See, if all you know about African Americans are those cop shows, all you know about Islam is Osama Bin Laden, and all you know about people with mental illness is Jared Lee Loughner, then you are not going to want to live next door to a black person, let your daughter date a Muslim, or hire a person with a mental illness.

People want to stay away from people that they think are dangerous.  This is because our brains are hard-wired to help us survive.  This is a good thing.

The problem comes when people's estimation of danger is out of whack, when they think that a whole class of people is dangerous, and when those thoughts do not have a basis in reality.

People whose fears are out of proportion to real risk need our help.  They need evidence if they are going to change what they know.  You can cite statistics until you are blue in the face.  But the most persuasive evidence is personal.  They need a face.

What does Jared Lee Loughner have to do with your child's kindergarten teacher, the kindest, gentlest person you know?  Or your Uncle Charlie, funny, generous, hard-working?  Or your roommate from college, who really struggled freshman year, and still does on occasion, yet runs a successful business anyway?  Jared is one lost soul who didn't receive the help his parents tried hard to find, and whose story could have been so different -- as demonstrated by the evidence of all these other people with mental illness whom you know.

NKM2.org


Remember these guys?  They are Joey Pants Joey (Pants) Pantaliano's bid to make mental illness as cool and as sexy as erectile dysfunction.

That's right.  Joey Pants (The Sopranos) has major depressive disorder.  And he wants the rest of us loonies to come out of the closet, too.  I described his No Kidding, Me Too campaign last October.  He represents the funner version of mental health advocacy.

Joey has a bracelet with the birds on it, a cute little way to identify yourself.  Go here to buy one.  If these bracelets catch on, then when you see somebody wearing one, you say, No Kidding?  Me, Too!  When somebody else asks you what your bracelet means and you explain, their response, one chance out of five, will be No Kidding?  Me, Too!  Or, No Kidding?  My Brother, My Boss, My Priest, My ... Too!

One brief exchange at a time, people learn that people with mental illness live and work and function and add quality to life all around them.  We are no more dangerous than anybody else.  That is not only a cold hard fact, it is also the experience of people who know people who have a mental illness.  And a number of us are rather fabulous!

Got it?  For those of you who are not ready to set a trash can on fire (last week's post on oppression), you can wear a bracelet.  You can come out and be one of many people your neighbor knows who have a mental illness and sometimes exhibit symptoms and usually get the lawn mowed anyway. 

NKM2 Needs Some Bipolar Help

It's a great idea, potentially cool and sexy.  But somewhere the program got hijacked.  Each of us has our abilities and our disabilities.  And Joey needs an assist, assigning the right task to the right section of the DSM.

That is Prozac Monologues' task for the day, to get these birds back on track.

To start: Joey's medallions come in 144 combinations of colors and finishes and a twelve page catalog from which to choose even more medallions.  My guess is he handed the bracelet job to somebody with Asperger's, who can see every potential option and wants to make each one available.

You always want to have somebody with Asperger's around to find the option outside your neurotypical box.  That person might redesign your computer platform, or notice the pothole that will break your axle if you don't swerve now, or find the resource you never dreamed existed, or restate the problem so the solution is both easy and joyous.  You always want to have an Aspie around.

My Aspie friend says, Give the Aspies the money.  Tell us the rules, and we will make sure they are followed.

But this medallion thing falls into marketing.  Go to the bipolar spectrum for marketing.

The Silver Ribbon Campaign

So maybe you have noticed there is a ribbon for every cause you can think of and many that you have never heard of.  A cloud ribbon for Congenital diaphragmatic hernia?

Nobody is in charge of this ribbon thing.  In our field we already have orange for ADHD and for self-injury, checked (they call it jigsaw) for autism, yellow for suicide, white for gay-teen suicide, green for mental health and for childhood depression, purple for dementia, silver for mental illness and for brain disorders.  A marketing nightmare.

Marketing 101: Get yourself a message.  Attach a brand to it.  Stick to it.

So we need a ribbon.  One ribbon.  One color that umbrellas all the rest.  Prozac Monologues here and now declares the color -- silver.  Just because I said so, that's why.

No, not just because I said so.  My eye is on the platform.

The Oscars.  The Emmys.  The Grammys.

We need a color that is Oscarlicious, that will stand out and look fabulous on tuxedos and those designer dresses.  We need a color that designers will design around.

AIDS awareness soared when the red ribbon became the de rigour fashion accessory at the Oscars.  The entertainment industry knew that AIDS was their issue, and they got on board.

Even more so, mental illness.  If suddenly tomorrow, the entire planet went neuro-normal, comedy would die.  Just die.  Ditto any other writing, music and set design.

So, one color for the bracelets.  One color that will take over the award shows and establish our brand.

Fire That Guy!

Next, the latest NKM2 PSA features solemn music against words on a screen about how few people with mental illness commit violent crime, alternating with video of police cars and ambulances at the sight of the shooting in a Tuscon shopping center.  WTF?!?!!  I don't know who is responsible for this marketing mess.  But fire that guy!  Or rather, channel his/her energies in a different direction.

In a nutshell: Confucius said A picture is worth a thousand words.  Maybe it was Confucius.  He usually gets the credit, sometimes Napoleon Bonaparte.  Anyway, a moving picture with *flashing police lights* is worth a whole lot more words than a mere one thousand.  It does not matter the teeniest, tiniest bit that the text says we are not violent.  The picture shows something very different.

There is nothing cool and sexy about Jared Loughner.  I don't want to live next door to him, either.

Recall NKM2 To Its Mission

Most of NKM2's videos feature depressed people ruminating about stigma.  It's what depressed people do best, ruminate.  Which is why they don't belong on camera unless they are acting.  Let's get back to cool and sexy! 

Mount Rushmore And Marilyn Monroe

So let's we put those loonie birds to work in a new PSA!



One bird says to the other, I have a mental illness.  The other: No kidding -- me, too!!

Then Joey says to the camera, I have major depression.  Abraham Lincoln answers from Mount Rushmore, No kidding -- me, too!  (Monty Python can do that moving jaw bit.)  Buzz Aldrin in his space suit chimes in, No kidding -- me, too!  Next up, J.K. Rowling, Where do you think the dementors came from?

Back to Mount Rushmore.  Teddy Roosevelt says, I have bipolar, to which a flying nun Patty Duke answers, No kidding -- me, too!  Charlie Pride can sing it.

Green Bay Packer Lionel Aldridge steps up to the line and says, I have schizophrenia.  Picture of John Nash and caption, receiving his Nobel Prize in Mathematics, with voice-over, No kidding -- me, too!

Jane Pauley, I have a mental illness.  Then pile on the animations, illustrations, faces speaking to the camera, No kidding -- me, too!  Harrison Ford, Beyoncé, Patrick Kennedy, Ann Hathaway, Amy Tan.  Include an apple falling on Isaac Newton's head.

Joey's voice comes on again, on top of photo after photo of famous and not so famous people in daily life: In science, the arts, government, business, sports, people with mental illness make valuable contributions to your life every day.  Your teachers, doctors, clergy, barristas, mechanics, neighbors, coworkers, one out of every five has a mental illness.


And the closer -- surely somewhere in Marilyn Monroe's body of work, sometime that breathless voice utters those now immortal words, No kidding -- me, too!

Are we getting closer to cool and sexy now? 

Coming Out As Evidence-Based Stigma-Busting

But coming out is scary!  Bad things will happen to me if people know I have a mental illness!

I can't argue with that.  I don't know what will happen to you.  There are ways to protect yourself.  I expect that Prozac Monologues will address this topic in the future.  This post is on how to help prejudiced people become less prejudiced.  And the research supports me here.  The more experience the general public has with people who have mental illness, the less prejudice.

Notice, I said experience.  Not knowledge.  Knowledge hasn't helped.  Experience does.

Personal Experience Mitigates Prejudice

Here is a study that shows familiarity breeds respect.  208 community college students, of diverse backgrounds and ages, were asked about how familiar they were with people who have a mental illness, whether that exposure was from movies, documentaries, work with, work for, friend, family member, own life.  They answered questionnaires on their estimation of how dangerous people with mental illness are, their fears of people with mental illness and their desire for social distance (whether willing or not to work with, live near, or associate with people with mental illness).

Sure enough, the closer the contact, the less expectation of danger, less fear, less desire for social distance.  And note: when you are asked whether you work with or live next door to somebody with a mental illness, the real questions is whether you know that you work with or live next door to somebody with a mental illness.

Strategies For Reducing Prejudice

These findings are consistent with a large body of research over a long time about how people who are familiar with members of a stigmatized group have less prejudice toward that group.  The following paragraph is quoted from the report.  You can find references for each point in the original.

Social psychologists have examined several variables that are relevant to ethnic prejudice and that could be adapted for research on contact with and stigma surrounding persons who have mental illness.  One important variable that affects contact is opportunity: members of the majority must have opportunities to interact with members of minority groups if stigma is to be reduced.  Thus persons who have serious mental illnesses must have formal opportunities to contact and interact with the general public.  Other factors that augment the effects of interpersonal contact include treatment and perception of the participants as equals by members of the public, cooperative interaction, institutional support for contact, frequent contact with individuals who mildly disconfirm the stereotypes of mental illness, a high level of intimacy, and real opportunities to interact with members of minority groups.  Each of these factors suggests specific hypotheses on how contact between members of the general public and persons who have serious mental illness can be facilitated.

These citations are for ethnic prejudice.  One's ethnicity is usually more observable than one's medical status.  Gay and lesbian people have gotten the same results with the same strategies -- by bringing their membership in a stigmatized group to the awareness of their friends, family, coworkers, neighbors, fellow church members, golf buddies...

So Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are

All you have to do to reduce prejudice against people with mental illness is be one.  Out loud.  We need every one of you who possibly can to come out.  We need family members and coworkers and neighbors and friends to talk about you, too.  We need to start laughing at the stereotypes and at the people who hold them.  We need to be out loud proud of our recovery.

Because there is a lot at stake here.

Silence = Death

icon of Christ Pantokrator in public domain
photo of Mahatma Gandhi in public domain
photo of Dorothy's ruby red slippers by Alkivar, used under the GNU Free Documentation License.
photo of kindergarten teacher in public domain
photo of Oscar Su Sfondo Rosso by Idea go
photo of Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones by John Griffiths and used under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
photo of Mount Rushmore by Kimon Berlin and used under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
photo of Charlie Pride in public domain
portrait of Amy Tan by David Sifry and used under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License
screen shot of Marilyn Monroe in public domain

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