Monthly Archives: October 2011

Sucked In

For me the most dangerous thing about living with depression has been the seductive temptation to isolate myself. There is a twisted logic to it. It starts when I can feel myself slipping. A little more fatigued. A little less able to fend off negative thoughts. Waking up with less hope and less joy on each successive day. The things that usually cheer me — grooming a horse, singing (badly) in the car with my kids, or reading, for instance — lose their power. Eye blinks get slower and footfalls heavier. This is when the internal seduction starts. The depression says, “you should rest. You’re just tired.” So I rest. It feels good to rest. But things go undone. Phone calls neglected. Children neglected. Animals neglected. Work undone. Guilt. “You need more quiet. You’ll feel better tomorrow. Make them go away. Close your door. Turn off the light. Stay alone.” I push people away and isolate further. Once he (yes, big D is a dude) has me alone and safe, he shifts tone. “You are LAZY and DISGUSTING. Look at you! You left work early to sleep? You don’t deserve that!” D’s a colossal asshole but I can’t see that when I’m in it. The internal taunting rises to the level of a 24-7 diatribe. Think of the most hostile, critical, vengeful, mean-spirited person you know and imagine that person having a private loge (with alcohol because D is a mean drunk) in your brain. D has a direct line into your emotional center and just won’t shut up. Eventually, it’s just to exhausting to argue. You agree hoping he’ll just stop talking. The more you agree, the more you internalize D’s smack. Now you’re alone and trapped with a sociopath. Read the rest of this entry

Elyn Saks in The Huffington Post

Why is mental illness still so stigmatized? People who wouldn’t dream of saying a racial or ethnic slur glibly talk about nut cakes, lunatics and crazies. Perhaps they stigmatize the mentally ill because society always marginalizes people who are different. Or people may blame the person, not realizing that mental illness is a no-fault brain disease that you can’t just will away. Then again they may feel unconsciously that they are to blame. Finally, people may have an unconscious fantasy that mental illness is actually contagious — so one must stay away.

This is not just an academic exercise for me. I have struggled with schizophrenia for more than 30 years. My outcome has obviously been different than the accused gunman’s, but I still suffered stigma. Possibly, like him, I was very resistant to the idea of being hospitalized when I was first ill. How could I bring such shame on my family and myself?

Friends sometimes looked confused or scared when I told them about my illness; and I lost some friends, which was very painful.

So, I understand first hand the effect stigma can have. Stigma is out there and it makes people feel damaged, lesser. It encourages people to be in the closet when being able to get help from friends, when one is suffering, is very important. Stigma’s worst effect is that it deters people from accepting their illness and agreeing to treatment. If mentally ill people didn’t have the added burden of stigma, maybe more of them would seek treatment. And then tragedies like the one in Tucson would be less likely to happen.

How can we combat stigma? More people coming forward to put a face on mental illness is important, though one must take care when doing this. A media that puts violence committed by people with mental illness in context — most people with mental illness are not violent — would be helpful. The media should also report more positive and hopeful stories.

Elyn Saks Author of The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

Posted: January 19, 2011 04:42 PM in the Huffington Post


From the pain come the dream–From the dream come the vision–From the vision come the people–From the people come the power–From this power come the change  Peter Gabriel

Halloween Horrors

Among the time-honored traditions of Halloween are titillating walks through haunted houses where visitors are spooked by the creatures that occupy their worst nightmares. For people with mental illnesses, this season is filled with stigma as many Halloween attractions across the country are based on stereotypical psychiatric hospitals. I gave a talk last year during which I focused on the challenges faced by people with mental illness during the Halloween season. This issue was solidified for me when Cedar Point, as a part of its annual HalloWeekends events, developed a new haunted house for 2010 called Dr. D. Mented’s Asylum for the Criminally Insane which was described on the website as follows: “Torture. Suffering. The twisted and evil Dr. D. Mented has practiced inhumane experiments for many years. Stay away or you may become his next victim.” The inaccurate stereotype of the violent, deranged, and dangerous “mental patient” (as indicated by the image of one of the CP actors in the above image) as well as the image of the immoral and insane psychiatrist are unfortunately all too common in our culture. Why is this a problem? These displays suggest that: people with mental illnesses are a threat and they should be excluded from social life; people with mental illnesses are appropriate targets for laughter and derision; and that mental health professionals are evil and not to be trusted. Cedar Point also included an attraction called The Edge of Madness: Still Crazy with the tag line “The psychotic inhabitants of the Frontier Trail are Read the rest of this entry

The Stigma Process: Part 3

In the second part of this discussion, we explored how the normal and typically adaptive ways in which people think about their social worlds works in the expression of negative attitudes about people with mental illness. Now we need to discuss how people can mindfully reshape this process using controlled rather than automatic processing.

First, what do I mean by automatic processing or automatic thinking? Aronson et al. (2010) define automatic thinking as “thinking that is nonconscious, unintentional, involuntary, and effortless.”  People use categories, stereotypes, and schemas automatically all day long usually with good results.  In contrast, controlled processing or controlled thinking is “thinking that is conscious, intentional, voluntary, and effortful.”  There are pros and cons to both kinds of thinking.  Controlled thinking requires a fair amount of motivation and attention meaning that the person has to choose to use it.  What does it look like when we get people to shift out of auto pilot and into a controlled state of mind? Read the rest of this entry

Monochrome Days

“Society tends to shrug off depression as just a minor annoyance or passing phase, especially when the person who has it happens to be a teenager or young adult. But if you’ve ever felt it, you know that’s a lie. Full-blown depression is an excruciating disease. It drains our hope, saps your energy, and steals all the fun from your life.” Cait Irwin, Monochrome Days

Mind Race

“It is hard to admit that you have problems or that you cannot handle them without help. But the truth is that denying your problems, or thinking they’ll just go away with time, or facing them but trying to deal with them by yourself, is not a viable answer.” Patrick Jamieson, Mind Race

Two Electric Currents

“It is as if my life were magically run by two electric currents: joyous positive and despairing negative—whichever is running at the moment dominates my life, floods it.” Sylvia Plath

The Stigma Process: Part 2

In the first part of this discussion, I argued that there are some unfortunate but normal ways in which people think about their social worlds that allow the development and maintenance of negative attitudes about people with mental illness to arise. Now we need to walk through how this plays itself out.

1. I have a category called “crazy” or “mentally ill”.  When my youngest daughter was about to start kindergarten (I believe she was 5), I showed her a cartoon image of a person with the wild eyes and unkempt hair characteristic of the “crazy” stereotype.  I asked her to tell me about the man in the picture. She said he was “cuckoo”.  We form these categories very early and elaborate on them often. Read the rest of this entry

The Stigma Process: Part 1

In Movies & Madness, I present the argument that there are some generally functional and adaptive ways in which people think about their social worlds that allow the development and maintenance of negative attitudes about people with mental illness to arise. I ground the argument in basic social psychological theory and research. This social-cognitive-emotional-behavioral (I’m still working on a better name…) stigma process involves:

1. The tendency to categorize. We humans do it all the time. We can’t help it. It’s actually for the most part adaptive. Think about walking into a party full of people you don’t know.  You scan the room.  Without much conscious attention on your part, you put the people you see into groups and choose which ones to approach and avoid based on where they have been categorized. Read the rest of this entry

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