I want to start off my column this week by saying that April is National Autism Awareness Month. There is also a National Autism Awareness Day, which was April 2. If this is a surprise, don’t feel bad. I didn’t find out until April 3.
However, I am not going to use today to talk specifically about autism, but instead about mental health in general. In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I am going to step away from my social justice routine for just a moment and be a little bit more positive. Instead of complaining about mental illness and how the world treats it, I am going to celebrate some of the strides that have been made recently by and for people with mental illness.
One of the biggest achievements that I want to talk about, and which many of you may have heard about, is the release of the new “Power Rangers” movie. “Power Rangers”, long hailed as being one of the most diverse series in the recent past, has done it again. In addition to including an LGBTQI member in the team, it has also included an openly autistic protagonist. This is huge for individuals with mental illness. For the first time in a long time, people with mental illnesses are seeing themselves onscreen in a role where they are just as heroic as anyone else. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I’ve read a few articles and I really want to see it. What’s really amazing, at least in my opinion, is that Billy (the Blue Ranger, my personal favorite) in addition to being on the spectrum, is also black. The reason I see this as such a big thing is because it’s rare to see a black character portrayed as autistic. In many cases, mental illness is looked at almost as a white issue, as if it doesn’t really affect anyone else.
“Sesame Street” has also made great strides toward diversity by introducing an autistic Muppet named Julia. Just watching a clip of the show, they do a great job of explaining a lot of the symptoms while also working toward acceptance as well as awareness, which is a goal a lot of individuals with mental illness push for. The clip also showed a breathing exercise used by a lot of people with various kinds of anxiety.
Another, possibly minor, thing that is happening regarding mental illness, is the premiere of “13 Reasons Why” on Netflix. Though, again, I have never seen the show, the reviews seem to be quite positive. The show is both diverse and is said to accurately portray depression. It also deals with bullying and various other issues confronted by people with mental illnesses.