Columns / Discourse / February 15, 2017

Discussing mental health on Knox’s campus

Honestly, I am not sure exactly where to begin with this. Mental health is a very complex topic and I, personally, don’t have a lot of experience with mental health programs here at Knox.

I will say that the best resource Knox offers is its student body. People here are very diverse, offering a range of experiences and ideas. Because of that, it isn’t hard to find people who can sympathize with your circumstances, or, at the very least, know better than to judge you for them. Like I have said in past columns, I have a lot of friends who understand what it’s like to struggle with some condition or other, however mild or severe it may be, and I am grateful to all of them for sharing their experiences and understanding mine. Plus, the students and various health services employees, at least in my experience, treat the issue with more sympathy and seriousness than most public school teachers do. I’m sure many of us remember those old posters from middle school and high school that read: “A permanent solution to a temporary problem.”

Though we can all agree with the anti-suicide message, we can also tell that the writer of this slogan was probably neurotypical. Ask anyone with a mental illness when the last time their condition felt a) temporary or b) not worth worrying about all that much, and the answer will probably be ‘never’ or ‘not often’ to both of those questions.

I have only taken one Psychology class here at Knox, but I really love the topic and I hope to take more during Spring Term. Since I’ve only taken introductory courses throughout my school career, I’m not sure how much sway my opinion holds. I love that there are Psychology courses on so many different topics and that one of them is dedicated solely to abnormal psychology, and that there are various editions of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), the textbook used to outline and diagnose the various mental illnesses that have been discovered.

In other words, for those who are curious about the topic in general, like myself, there are a lot of resources at your disposal. Also, the school’s emphasis on intersectionality does offer many opportunities to address the issue as it appears through history and in the context of other human rights campaigns. In my past three-and-a-half years here, I have come into contact with representations or interpretations of mental illness and physical disability in Shakespeare (the melancholy, Richard III, possibly Hamlet and Caliban), early American history (one of the ways witches were identified in Salem often involved symptoms of senility or other forms of mental deterioration), environmentalism (various chemical and environmental concerns have arisen on grounds that many of the chemicals used in the United States appear to be a cause of mental and physical health issues), feminism and race equality (many feminist and racial historical issues, such as the false concept of hysteria and sterilization, often of black women, were justified on grounds of mental health, among other societal ills).

I do think there should be more visibility at Knox, with more student organizations and even more school events scheduled around the idea of mental health. Certainly some exist now, but they are often not given much visibility or are very limited in scope. I think there should also be some general groups, stuff that deal with a certain mental illness or class of mental illness, where topics can range from serious societal struggles, such as in the above-mentioned groups that already exist, to simpler, more day-to-day annoyances that one might experience because of conditions (i.e. short attention span, stressing out when homework gets to be a lot, how to maintain a social life when you’re afraid that everyone is judging you, how to read social cues if you struggle with them, etc).

I also think there should perhaps be more movies, shows and specifically, media that depict mental illness in an accurate and positive light. We could even have a theatre “rewrite” festival, where people research plays and films where individuals with mental or physical disabilities, or even members of other oppressed groups are poorly or inaccurately portrayed, and attempt to rewrite it in a way where said characters are more realistic, sympathetic and powerful. I’d honestly love to see that kind of festival.

Tony Rogde-Hinderliter

Tags:  campus column discourse involvement mental health mental illness one mind Stigma

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