Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sorry for the delay, but this post compliments the photo essay in the post below (please view before reading on). I am always pondering the many complexities of mental illness stigma. One topic that I often dwell on is the history of oppression (in all societies). "Oppression is defined as the use of power to disempower, marginalize, silence or otherwise subordinate one social group or category, often in order to further empower and/or privilege the oppressor. Social oppression may not require formally established organizational support to achieve its desired effect; it may be applied on a more informal, yet more focused, individual basis." Most of us have experienced or learned about various types of oppression. I would like to outline a few in order to compare any similarities and differences.

African Americans have endured many forms of discrimination, but why? The color of their skin? So they LOOK different. I can't really think of any other reason why they had to experience years of intense oppression except for a few stereotypes. "Many terms were used to describe (and brand) African Americans such as superstitious, lazy, and ignorant. Today’s stereotypes are not much different, and include unintelligent, loud, very religious, poor, and criminal." These stereotypes are made up in order to empower the majority. Unfortunately, African American's can not hide their skin color, so they can not hide from discrimination and hate. These individuals fought hard and long to obtain their Civil Rights. This inpirational time in history paved the way for our current African American president. It also proved that the majority can embrace the minority.

Woman are faced with a similar dilemma in that they can not hide their identity (as a female). Because of this, women were forced to fight for their right to vote. Now I don't want to be blunt, but men did not view women as equal, so they were not ALLOWED to vote. After all, women have roles, right? Who needs an identity or right to vote when women are meant to have babies and watch after the house (sense the sarcasm). Women also experienced intense oppression in the workplace, and to some degree, still do. However, it was OK for women to do a "MAN'S JOB" during WWII. Propaganda was used during this time to lure women into the war industries. "The government’s war time efforts to recruit women had several themes, the main one being patriotism. The campaigns told women that the war would end sooner if more women worked. Women were also warned that if they did not work then a soldier would die, people would call them slackers, and they were equivalent to men who avoided the draft (Rupp 96). Women who took war jobs were praised." Even though, most women were sent back to the home when the war ended, this important time in history was not forgotten. Women continued to fight for equality in the workplace far after WWII.

Sexual harassment will always exist as a tool to intimidate one party by empowering the other. As a woman, I have experienced this in my past, but you learn to speak up and correct unacceptable behavior. Thankfully, there are laws in place to combat this. I also can't walk through a hardware store without getting asked, "do you need any help". I get this question, even when I give NO indication that I am confused by all the tools. Sorry I forgot to read my role book that day, but I have installed chandeliers, sinks, electrical outlets, hardwood floors, moulding, etc. All without the help of a man:) I am not this serious all the time, trust me, I do have a sense of humor!

Hitler use of propaganda allowed for the extermination of millions of Jews. "Hitler made the Jews the scapegoat for everything that was wrong in Germany and convinced enough people that they were taking up space that would be better used by his "Master Race" of aryans." Really sick. Hitler also killed anyone who appeared to have a mental disorder or physical deformaties. This sad peice of history amplifies the notion that differences are not acceptable. An appetite for power or personal fear prevents equality. This sense of entitlement has destroyed so many innocent individuals. Hitler was on a mission to create the perfect race. The scary thing is, he was not finished after the holocast. He planned to exterminate other races that were not "perfect". Many of us are still here because of those who fought to end this horrible oppression and hate. 

Animals have a very special place in my heart. They are therapeutic and kind. Since they do not have a voice, they can not object to slaughter, cruelty or lack of empathy. I have an intense sense of empathy which is why I choose to purchase eggs, dairy and meats that are produced on farms where the animals are cage free, slaughtered humanely and not given steroids or antibiotics. It's expensive to eat this way, but very worth it. If an animal will be ultimately slaughtered for our consumption, than the least we can do is give them a comfortable life up until that point. The reason why people may not view acts against animals as inhumane is because these animals do not have a voice. We must remember that humans are also animals and all animals feel pain. I have to stop talking about this because it is making me too sad. Just go watch "Fast Food Nation" or visit this site to learn more.  

Right now, we are experiencing a very important battle for civil rights. Gay and lesbian individuals are fighting for their right to marry. This may seem like a little request but by allowing same sex marriage, these indiviuals will receive the same economic benefits that married couples have. Now, why are so many against same sex marriage? Because it goes against the idea that marriage is the "inherently procreative relationship of opposite-sex pair-bonding or to protect an intimate relationship for the purposes of its procreative potential". It is still debated by many, but I beleive that you do not CHOOSE to be homosexual. I won't go into my reasons (it would take a while) but plain and simply, oppression prevents progress. So this battle for civil rights may take a while. However, I am very happy  that these individuals are speaking out because that is the only way to enact change. 

Finally, I come to the topic which fuels my passion to fight stigma. Our society is still very comfortable with oppression against those with a mental disorder. The main reason why this discrimination is so intense is due to lack of education, propaganda and fear. When an individual (with mental illness) is not medicated, he or she will present a behavior that is strange or different. Others will sheild their behavior and suffer in silence. Those who have recovered preserve their identity by hiding their illness from the public as well. Who can blame them? When an illness carries such stigma, many run the risk of being forced to identify with their illness, as opposed to their true self.  However, if we do not talk about mental illness, we can not replace fear with empathy or shame with courage. The truth can eliminate the stereotypes and myths but we need more voices to carry out this message. My message to society: make sure you hear both sides before you decide. 

Oppression may taint our history but it also tests the strength and courage of an individual or race.

Monday, March 23, 2009

I intend to post about my photo essay (below) very soon. 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

My brother is in a state hospital right now and continues to improve. This experience is new for him because he is required to wake up at 7 am everyday. He is also not allowed in his room for a good portion of the day. I think this is good because he has less of a chance to dwell on his thoughts. Plus, he is more likely to interact with others. All patients must go to the cafeteria for their meals and meet for group. I think any type of routine can help.

I have mentioned in the past that a few doctors have weren't so optimistic about my brother's prognosis. Well, his new doctor has very positive things to say. She said my brother is very nice, educated and predicts that his prognosis will be good. Time will only tell, but it was the first time my mother felt like this doctor could help my brother accept his illness. She has over 30 years experience which is reassuring. I talked to my brother the other day and he really misses one of my dogs (picture above). I can't wait until my bro gets better and he can hug Miles again:) It's so ironic because Miles is a silly, neurotic boxer who seems to intimidate others (due to his muscular build and size). However, Miles has nothing but love to give. People judge Miles based on his image and the fact that he LOOKS mean. If you give Miles a chance, you will need a towel to wipe his sloppy kisses off your face. My brother has a certain bond with Miles I can't describe. He is the only one who ever asks about him. Usually, people ask about my hound who is much more submissive. 
But with Miles you can't help but laugh at him. Like all boxers, Miles is a clown and very hard headed. Such a personality. Dogs are very therapeutic, though. They have helped me though these past three years. I swear they can sense sadness. If I was down about my bro, they would comfort me or lick my face:) They are also the only ones who can make my brother smile, even when he is not doing well. Anyway, just thought I would share that with you. Above are a few pics we have taken of Miles and Basie over the years. They are dressed up as Scrooge and Tiny Tim for a holiday card in one of the pics. The photo shoot took an hour:) 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I've been meaning to post about this great article I read a few weeks ago. The article was written by a young man with schizophrenia. His insightful point of view sheds light on the reality behind mental illness and stigma. I was saddened and shocked by the statistics. Here is what he had to say: "

Schizophrenia Has Become the Elephant in the Room for the Modern Medical Community

"Having lived as a diagnosed schizophrenic since the summer of 2001 (technically having been bearing the actual affliction since birth), I feel that my position provides me with a unique perspective on a widely-misunderstood disease that many view only through the disinterested disdain of the media: the raving lunatic on the streets, shouting at passer-bys, the "problem child" (the one in the institution) nobody in the family talks about in polite company, Anthony Hopkins tearing off a cop's face (in a movie, I hope). In fact, among the general population of those afflicted, less than 1% exhibit violence related to the disease, and fewer than 10% require institutionalization at any point during their lives. But what is schizophrenia really, if not the stylized madness portrayed in popular film and television? Schizophrenia is not so much a 'disease,' really, as a 'syndrome,' in that it is an aggregate of lesser, separately-diagnosable mental conditions." Read the rest of the article here...

As always, I look forward to your comments :)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

To be a victim is to be adversely affected by a force or agent. When an individual is victimized by someone with mental illness, society views the offender as 100% evil. Honestly, I can understand the abrupt judgment, but isn't mental illness a force out of one's power? This would make the criminal (in this case) a victim. So here are a few reasons why we as a society can not clearly make this distinction:

1. We do not educate the public about mental illness.
2. The media jumps at the chance to sensationalize any criminal act made by a person with mental illness
3. The act is viewed as something within the person's control

Here are some FACTS about violence and mental illness that may help society form a more accurate opinion:

1. 95% of all murders are committed by SANE individuals (people who are aware of their actions)
2. 95% of those with a mental disorder have NO HISTORY of violence
3. Individuals with schizophrenia are far more likely to harm themselves than others

Why are these facts kept from the public? Well, the media has one agenda: to shock the public. They know that stories about mental illness and violence have an instant shock value. The result: ignorance and fear. So much damage has been done that it will take years to strip away the stigma. I believe the next generation has a chance to embrace this topic, but for now, I am not so confident that the adult generations will give truth a chance. People tell me that I cannot change everyone's opinion. However, I do think that education/art can inspire empathy.

Propaganda has silenced millions of those trying to recover from a mental disorder. It makes me really sick. Those stories we hear about in the news (i.e. "The Canadian Greyhound Bus Beheading") are all part of the media's agenda to SELL FEAR. I will stop rambling and give you a real life example. I came across a story about the man (Vince Li, who has schizophrenia). He beheaded another man, Tim McLean, on a Greyhound bus. My heart truly goes out to Tim (and his family) for he had to loose his life in such a horrific way. I might want to add that this could have been prevented if Li was medicated. What makes me even sadder is what Li told the police: 

""God told me to do it. Otherwise it would come back to life very quick and kill me. So I cut it up to make sure he couldn't come back to life ... God told me to cut off his head, so I did." After that, with blood smeared on his face from the attack, he politely apologized to police and pleaded with officers to take his life."

I remember one time my brother had told me that if he ever acted out any of the voices commands that we should kill him. This seemed so very terrifying to me because I understood how horrific and real the voices seemed to him. 

Now to the public, this story must seem unbelievable and horrible. But instead of dwelling on the obvious, why can't we deal with the cause and try to prevent it in the future. If we started to eliminate stigma, more individuals might seek treatment. I think the public needs to know what it is like to deal with schizophrenia everyday (recovered or not). I want them to see the adversity these individuals face everyday with their illness/stigma. They need to know what it is like for the family members who witness the pain and suffering. This side of the story is NEVER told and it desperately needs to be. Stigma will continue to thrive as long as propaganda overpowers the truth. 

Here is how the same story was posted on the blog and I included some of the fearful responses (there were SO many to choose from): 

"Remember The Canadian Greyhound Bus Beheading??? The murderer was just found not guilty by reason of insanity! He will be sent to an institution, without serving any jail time, and will be mentally evaluated every year. If and when he is deemed "sane" again, the murderer will be released."

"Rediculous. The laws definitely need to be changed. If someone is mentally unstable and commits crimes, I believe that is EVEN MORE reason to put them behind bars. I believe that they should build a prision or make a section of a prision dedicated to mentally unsound criminals. If someone is "crazy" enough to behead someone and not "realize" they are doing it, they need to stay out of society! PERIOD!!!

"As a Canadian it makes me sick to live in a country were this is ok, As long as you inhabit some form of mental problem (Depression, schizophrenia…) ur actions are not your own.
This idiot was taking meds already and he went off them when the voices told him too and so he goes and kills a kid. now he is being treated in the same way, given a hand full of drugs to keep him hush hush for a while and then release him again !"

"Lock him up in a straight jacket and a muzzle. didn't he eat part of his victim ? SICK!" I agree with you that mental illness is serious but it was his responsibility to get treatment so that this would not happen. Because he did not get treatment, it is now his responsibility for being negligent"

"The crack heads that ride the bus to stay warm are one thing, but those with weapons obviously of the intent to preform a butcher are a different story. By the sounds of what went around shortly after the incident, to the conflicting psychological examinations, this man sounds crazy yes, but he KNEW what he was doing and KNEW that it was wrong… he stabbed this kid that was sleeping! For no reason except he was the closest victim!"

These types of responses are based on fear. What these individuals don't know is that they probably encounter many people with mental illness everyday. They may not know it because they are so used to the fabricated image that the media has created. I apologize for the long post but I would love to hear what you think!

Monday, March 9, 2009

I may have been a little vague in the request two posts down (on March 5th) but I was hoping to incorporate 4-5 stories of recovery in a documentary I will be creating for educational purposes. If you are interested, please refer to the bulleted list two posts down for details. You can email me your information at: Hope to hear from you soon!!!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

I would like to thank Mark Dombeck, Ph.D. who is the director of a very informative website, Mark was so kind to contact me and express interest in my anti-stigma educational campaign. I was very humbled by his admiration! After a few emails and a phone call, Mark and his staff wrote an article about my cause. This article will allow me to reach a much larger audience. After all, my mission is to inspire others so that we can begin to chip away at the stigma that surrounds mental illness.

I encourage you to bookmark This helpful website "promotes online mental health education and provides scientifically accurate and up-to-date coverage of mental health and illness topics." They also offer a Mental Health Support Community which can benefit both those dealing with a mental disorder and professionals. 

So I would like to thank Mark and his staff again for their generous article and for providing individuals with much needed support and understanding. I commend you for all your efforts.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

During the next two months, I will be creating a short documentary about mental illness/stigma. I will present this video to the public while my exhibit is shown (at a gallery) during late April and May. There is said to be news coverage at the opening. Once I receive initial feedback, I intend to use this documentary as an educational tool. I will be devoting a portion of this documentary to the "faces of recovery". Since so many of you have inspired me with stories of recovery, I think it could be quite powerful to send this message to public. If anyone is interested, here is what I would need:

1) 1-4 images of yourself (preferably candid). The shots could be of yourself, with family/pets, at your job, enjoying your favorite hobby, etc.
2) Your diagnosis date (year) and length of time you have been in recovery (this could be the sum of time even in between relapses)
3) A quote describing what recovery means to you 
4) A quote describing how stigma has affected you (good or bad)
5) What you wish for most (in regards to mental illness or stigma)
6) Any artwork that you have created as part of your art therapy
7) Anything else that might be helpful to tell your story 
8) Permission to use your quotes and images

I would like to get your approval of the finished film clip (with your story) once I have it completed. I know this seems like a lot but it will all work to put a face on recovery. In the end, your story will encourage others to view your journey as courageous and hopefully put an end to public fear. 

Looking forward to hearing from you soon! Feel free to contact me via email:

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

I don't even know where to begin. I am upset that a well know psychiatrist would publicly diagnose Joaquin  with a mental disorder without ever meeting him. I mean ethically, this doctor should have his license removed. From what I have read, no doctor can diagnose a patient with schizophrenia unless he/she has exhibited symptoms (from a criteria) for at least six months. It's bad enough that this doctor would attempt to convince the public that Joaquin is suffering from a mental disorder but the worst part, he has succeeded in fueling stigma. If you haven't already heard about this story, Paul Dobransky — a relationships expert and author of The Secret Psychology of How We Fall in Love (maybe he's trying to sell more books) — told the Los Angeles Times:

"I am NOT Dr. Drew, and thus cannot diagnose any drug-related abuse problems. If he is on drugs, he needs DR.DREW; however, after observing Joaquin Phoenix, it is apparent he is schizophrenic. Schizophrenia causes DELUSIONAL THINKING, LACK OF EMOTION, POOR HYGIENE, PARANOIA COMBINED WITH TICKING OF THE SPEECH, AND THIS PSYCHOTIC DISORDER CAUSES LOSS OF OR A SPLIT FROM REALITY. I believe Joaquin Phoenix needs medical attention." For the fans that adore him, they need to focus on the solution. Joaquin has plainly stated, "This is not a hoax."

And I got to be honest, but Phoenix’s rep, Susan Patricola, was on the money with her response:

“How absolutely inappropriate for a doctor who has no personal interaction or relationship with someone to diagnose them [...] And to do so in a public forum [...] Hope they spelled his name right. Another 15-minute ‘expert’ is born!” (

What we have here is yet another example of how this illness is so misunderstood. When a doctor makes a claim like this, most people (who are not very educated about mental illness, and I say this because it is true) assume that it is true if it came from a doctor. This doctor has also shown that it's OK to judge others and claim that they have a mental disorder simply because of their behavior. Can I tell someone that they have a stomach ache? Dobransky has succeeded in creating an inaccurate image of mental illness (long beard, speech problems, acting out of the ordinary). We rarely see a realistic representation of schizophrenia (other than a handful of movies). When will we start representing recovery? It will take more than my a grass roots cause but I will keep trying to find creative ways to reach the public. Well, what I think is that this doctor should be reprimanded by making a public statement in which he apologizes for his claim and should educate the public about schizophrenia. This would be a very good opportunity to put to rest some of the myths & stereotypes.  

Beyond this story, lets think about WHY everyone is so concerned about Joaquin's behavior. I think he makes it obvious just how consumed our society is with NORMAL. "Sit up straight, comb your hair, don't cause a scene." Haven't we all grown bored with normal? I have. His interview with Letterman just proves how fascinated we are with anything out of the ordinary. Let's embrace our differences and willingness to push the envelope. For all we know, the jokes on us.