Megan Larson – Active Minds Blog Changing the conversation about mental health Wed, 21 Dec 2016 21:09:12 +0000 en-US hourly 1 “Mad Hatter” Perpetuates Stigma around Mental Illness Wed, 26 Oct 2016 14:36:33 +0000 hand-sign-for-red-carpetThis post speaks candidly about the portrayal of mental illness in popular media and includes stigmatizing language and descriptions to help inform readers about the topic.  

In recent years discussion about mental health and awareness about mental illness has been on the rise. The conversation has even found its way into pop culture with musical artists like Sia. However, mental illness still remains a popular trope in pop music, as seen in Melanie Martinez’s new song “Mad Hatter” off her new album Cry Baby. While the song is meant to be Cry Baby’s acceptance of her madness, it instead perpetuates many stereotypes about mental illness.

It plays on the concept of sanity, with its opening notes conjuring up images of an asylum. At its core, the song creates a distinction between those that are “normal” and those that live with a mental health condition, saying “The normal, they make me afraid. The crazies, they make me feel sane.” This is detrimental to the many advocacy efforts that assert that people who live with mental illness are just like everyone else. Calling those with mental health conditions “crazy” perpetuates the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Those with mental illness are characterized as “nuts,” “mad,” and “psycho.” Such language harms those that do live with mental illness.

“I’m nuts, baby, I’m mad,

The craziest friend that you’ve ever had

You think I’m psycho, you think I’m gone

Tell the psychiatrist something is wrong.”

It further establishes an othering effect in which people with a mental health concern should be set apart from the “normal” people in society. It perpetuates the idea that mental illness is contagious and that people with such a condition should be quarantined. Such language labels people on the basis that their emotional experiences deviate from what is considered “normal” and creates a sense that they are lesser. This is particularly true in light of the fact that Melanie Martinez, the artist, is a woman and labels like “crazy” are more frequently applied to women due to their perceived emotional nature and desire for more intimate human connection in an effort to invalidate their emotions.

The way in which mental illness is described in the song makes it synonymous with violence. The actions of the “crazy” in the song are depicted as reckless and cruel, with them “popping balloons with guns” and “[painting] white roses red, each shade from a different person’s head.” There already exists such a strong negative view of mentally ill people being violent, due to the way in which the media discusses mental illness, that these images only further perpetuate that stereotype.

Also within the lyrics is a message that encourages people to go off their psychiatric medication. It tells of being better off and more liked by others when off medication despite something being wrong:

“Tell the psychiatrist something is wrong

Over the bend, entirely bonkers

You like me best when I’m off my rocker.”

This is a dangerous message to be hidden within the lyrics of a pop song, for there can be serious consequences for stopping medication without the oversight and approval of a psychiatrist. It again perpetuates negative stereotypes by claiming it is better to be off medication. Those who do take psychiatric medication already face significant stigma, and the message in the song implies that such medication is unnecessary for people will like you more when you are off your medication.

Potentially worst of all is that all of these messages are intended to make this inaccurate depiction of living with mental illness desirable, stating, “So what if I’m crazy? The best people are.” The title of the song itself is an insult to those with a mental health condition, for “mad as a hatter” is a derogatory phrase. The song “Mad Hatter” by Melanie Martinez solidifies the notion that in our society there are people that are normal and abnormal and everyone must be categorized into these divisions. Social acceptance of mental illness is critically important because discrimination follows stigma. “Mad Hatter” elicits negative views about mental illness and perpetuates harmful stereotypes, contributing to the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Though intended to be a song of acceptance, “Mad Hatter” does not reflect the fact that one in four people experience a mental health concern in a given year and that they are to be viewed and treated no differently than anyone else.

Megan is a chapter leader at Active Minds at UCLA and a member of the Active Minds Student Advisory Committee.

What We Say Matters Fri, 23 Sep 2016 13:00:41 +0000 Written by Megan Larson, Active Minds Student Advisory Committee and Active Minds at UCLA member.

I’m here. I’m breathing. I’m alive. This surprises me sometimes. Then I remember how lucky I am for this second chance.

When I attempted suicide I felt there was no hope left. I couldn’t imagine another day, another hour, even another minute of enduring the pain I was in. I was tired of fighting and I gave into the darkness I fought so hard to keep at bay daily.

I wish someone had been there to ask me the hard questions. I needed someone to ask me those specific and targeted questions: was I having thoughts of hurting myself; did I have a plan; and did I have the means to carry out that plan? I needed someone to be a bright light for me, someone to reach across the darkness of my depression that had left me numb to all emotion.

I’m so grateful that I’m still alive to say that I am the survivor of a suicide attempt. My experience has contributed to my passion for mental health advocacy and given me the desire to educate others about suicide. After all, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, and second among people aged 15-34 years.

Many are afraid to say the word “suicide,” especially to those they are concerned might be having suicidal thoughts; however, discussing suicide will not give someone the idea to take their life if they have not already thought about it themselves. Instead, letting go of the fear of the topic of suicide lets the person know that you are there for them.

Although I had a newfound sense of hope and desire to live after my attempt, those around me were careful to watch over me. They were unsure what to say or do. The first few days of my recovery seemed to have a strange quality to them. I felt disconnected and like I couldn’t participate in the world around me. I had all of these feelings but I couldn’t access them—I was in a bubble with my emotions just out of reach.

Although my parents were there for me, some of what they said and did was well-intentioned but misguided.

I had disrupted what was seemingly a typical Wednesday night for my parents and they didn’t know how to react. In trying to convey their love for me, they said things like, “doing silly things like this is the only thing that hurts us.” That sort of stuff had the opposite of its intended effect.

I was left feeling guilty for what I had done and that sense of guilt only reaffirmed my negative beliefs. I knew they just wanted to understand why I had done what I had, but the constant questioning about why and how and asking “didn’t you think about us—how this would affect us—it would kill us?” was too much for me. I was overwhelmed by the constant question of how I was feeling. I wanted to talk about these things at my own pace. I was surrounded not only by my own emotions about what had happened, but those of my parents as well.

My parents didn’t get it all wrong, though, and their hearts were definitely in the right place. They didn’t have information available to them, but through trial and error they became a great source of support in my recovery.

When I came home from the hospital, my recovery was the focus. They took me to the movies and let me choose dinner, we played with my dog, and we joked as usual. Once I was home they did their best to make me comfortable and help me return to normal daily life. I appreciated every time my mom or dad made the simple comments “I love you” or “I’m here for you.” It let me know that when I was ready we would talk about what had happened, but that they weren’t going to force the conversation.

To be there and support someone doesn’t mean you have to do some grand gesture, rather, simple and direct words and actions make all the difference. The hardest things to say often are the exact things that need to be said. We must overcome our fear of those close to us considering suicide in order to reach them and provide support before an attempt is made; after an attempt is made we must overcome our disbelief about what has happened and simply be there for the one we love.

Are you or someone you know in crisis? Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “BRAVE” to 741-741 to reach Crisis Text Line.