Tuesday, January 17, 2012

How Can We Make Mental Health Sexy?

Mental health services seem to be underfunded wherever you go. A huge number of visits to the doctor and/or hospital are really mental-health related, yet the funding does not reflect this.

I worked in a mental health institution for awhile. In some areas, the "patients" (I hate this word, but that is what people were called there) were expected to sleep in large rooms, with only cubicle walls separating them. There were some wards that were so sensory-offensive that I breathed a sigh of relief when I left them. I felt terrible that I had to leave the "patients" behind.

When I worked in vocational rehabilitation, there was not the staffing or funding to provide services that would actually make a difference.

When I worked in the community, programs and staffing had to be cut because the funding did not keep up with inflation.

The sad truth of it is, who do these people have to advocate for them? There are some people with mental health issues who are doing a great job of advocating. However, a large number of people with mental health issues are not in a good place to be advocating for themselves because they are busy trying to make it through each day.

I look at some other programs that seem to be doing a good job of raising money. Children seem to be a popular cause. They are cute; they tug at your heartstrings; and they have parents to be strong advocates. I see the Children's Hospital receiving a lot of donations. As a parent, I am glad for this.

Helping people in Africa seems to be a popular cause. I think it is nice and comfortable to help people who live that far away. It makes it easy to believe that everything is good here, and that there are no people starving in your city. I understand there is a real need in Africa. I just think that sometimes it prevents people from acknowledging the need that is right in front of them.

It seems to be really trendy to support breast cancer these days, and I think the breast cancer charities have done an excellent job of promoting themselves. They have taken a topic that was not talked about, and made it mainstream. They have used what they had available to them - this is your mom, your sister, etc. They have also made breast cancer awareness somewhat "sexy". Check out the Your Man Reminder App.

I think that mental health advocates could learn a lot from the breast cancer folks. I know it may be a tough sell to think of the homeless man talking to himself in a sexy way. That does not mean he has any less need of funding for programs than anyone else. A few years ago, I also would not have thought of breast cancer as sexy or trendy either.

There is a lot of talk about reducing the "stigma" of mental illness. It almost seems that the more we talk about "stigma", the more stigmatizing it gets. You may want to check out my post on "Anti-Stigma" vs. "Social Inclusion".

Instead of looking at the negative, I think we should look at how to put a more positive spin on mental health. Any ideas?


  1. Hi Linda,

    Last year I was involved in a group fundraising for a local mental health organisation, and from this I learnt two things relating your post:

    1. Compassion fatigue is a real problem-people are constantly being asked to donate money for some guy growing a moustache, quitting drinking for a month, breast cancer, childhood cancers, ovarian cancer.....the list goes on and there is no "un-worthy" cause. There is a good chance there are no more available ribbon colours. also, have you seen the documentary "Pink Ribbons Inc"?

    2. The people who were most likely to support our team were those who had a close experience of mental illness, either because they had been unwell themselves or a family member or friend had.Participating in the fundraiser or even chatting to our team also allowed people to talk about it in a way that that was quite positive.

    So maybe it is about tapping ino peoples personal connections and get them involved (volunteering, being informed etc) rather than overall sense of unease compelling people to give money.

    Anyway, that was just my experience! As for the sexiness, no idea :-)

  2. Good points, Blue. I haven't seen Pink Ribbons Inc., but will have to look into it!



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