invincible summers

in the middle of winter I at last discovered that there was in me an invincible summer. (albert camus)

nyu ransom ads December 18, 2007

This past week The New York University Child Study Center introduced a public service campaign to raise awareness of what Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, the center’s founder and director, called “the silent public health epidemic of children’s mental illness.” Their plan to bring awareness consists of running ads that read like ransom notes.

From the NYU Child Study Center website:

“The idea behind the “Ransom Notes” is that, all too often, untreated psychiatric disorders are holding our children hostage. These disorders rob children of the ability to learn, make and keep friends and enjoy life.”

Dr. Koplewicz told the New York Times the campaign was inspired by filmed conversations of parents and children talking about life with a psychiatric disorder. “These families felt their children were trapped by their disorders.” The ads began running last week in New York magazine and Newsweek as well as on kiosks, billboards and construction sites around New York City.

We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. This is only the beginning…Autism.

We are in possession of your son. We are making him squirm and fidget until he is a detriment to himself and those around him. Ignore this and your kid will pay…ADHD

We have your son. We are destroying his ability for social interaction and driving him into a life of complete isolation. It’s up to you now…Asperger’s Syndrome

We have your daughter. We are forcing her to throw up after every meal she eats. It’s only going to get worse…Bulimia

We have your daughter. We are making her wash her hands until they are raw, everyday. This is only the beginning…OCD

There have been times during my twenty plus years living with a mental illness (from my first visit with a psychiatrist at 13 to present day) I have certainly felt my body and mind were being held captive. However, I’ve also spent the last twenty plus years fighting to survive and function in a world full of stigma.

stigma |ˈstigmə|
noun ( pl. stigmas or esp. in sense 2 stigmata |stigˈmätə; ˈstigmətə|)
1 a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person : the stigma of mental disorder | to be a nonreader carries a social stigma

If the stigmas of mental illnesses, AIDS, race, ethnicities and homosexuality were erased, the world would be a much better place. We would experience such things as peace and understanding. Compassion and love. Instead, we still live in a world full of hate, misunderstanding and ignorance. A world where money and power reign.

I believe this ad campaign will only add to the current mental illness stigma. These ads will not open eyes. These ads will not educate. I see these ads and I’m reminded of words like “terror” and “evil-doers!” I am reminded that we live in country that uses words like those mentioned before and those mentioned in the ads to make us afraid. Phrases like “We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives” leave one feeling hopeless, that is, unless they take a pill. In the same way we are currently fighting “terror” by attacking a country that never attacked us in the first place. Thousands upon thousands are dying for what….oil? money? power? Thousands upon thousands will take a pill in hopes of a better life…a more “normal” life. However, what few people seem to understand…the people who want us to believe our freedom is at stake, our lives are in danger, are the same people who also want us to remain sick. It’s more money in their pockets.

Why I am mixing politics with the mental illness stigma? It’s simple really…I do not believe our government (the current administration and those running for the 2008 presidential election) are truly concerned for our well being. They want to keep us afraid. They want us sick. And they will do whatever it takes to keep us that way. Politicians, lobbyists, big pharma, big insurance…the majority of them no longer care about us. The few that do are silenced by the media.

If I had a child with a mental illness, I would want my child to feel they are not different. I certainly would not want my child to feel hopeless and afraid. I would do everything in my power to embrace my child and their illness. I would treat them like the human being they are and not a person with a defect. I would fight the system. I would seek alternative medications. I would question the teachers, the doctors and all of those quick to diagnose and suggest/prescribe the current hot pill promoted by the very people who do not want my child to live what they consider to be a normal life.

I would tell my child there will be days they may feel as if they’re being held hostage but there will be far more beautiful days…I would tell my child their illness will only make them stronger, braver, more caring, loving and understanding. I would tell my child “don’t believe these misguided words—you are perfect the way you are.” My child, I know, would feel more, experience more and love more than any of those people claiming they have the key to my child’s freedom and happiness. It is they who need help—they need to stop and think about the consequences of words like “hostage” and “possession.” They are the ones being held hostage. They are possessed.

I have no regrets. I know I am strong enough to weather the storm. I know the light is always around the corner. I know the road will always be windy and bumpy. I know I have a choice. I know what’s possible and what I can achieve—I know that passion, love, understanding and perseverance are achieved while living life, fighting the stigma and surrounding myself with people that are open and unafraid of the unknown. These ads will make so many even more afraid of the unknown. These ads will terrify and ultimately lead to a life truly held captive. These ads are a step backwards. These ads only fuel the stigma. How can that possibly be a good thing?

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