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Mental Illness Today

Education and consciousness in the month of mental health awareness

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The mental illness has been a constant condition in the history of human kind. Michel Foucault (France, 1926-1984) dedicated one of his works to the historical analysis of the diseases that afflict the nervous system, identifying them during the Renaissance as holders of great wisdom; as marginal individuals during the Middle Ages and as confined during modern times, considering the physical estrangement of the ill as a turning point in the development of treatment and study of the psyche. 

The alienation of the individual from his ordinary space and his confinement, suggested the transformation of the mental illness into a social taboo, measure of weakness, monstrosity and even danger for society. The visual culture has also collaborated with the mythification of the mental patient. See the cases of One flew over the cuckoo’s nest by Milos Forman (1975), The Shining by Stanley Kubrick (1980), The Fight Club by David Fincher (1999) or A Beautiful Mind by Ron Howard (2001), movies that, while they brought the spectator closer to realities once reserved to psychiatric forums, also alienated the mental condition to a neurotic and even shocking scenario. 

After the emergence of psychoanalysis, the mind would become an unknown territory to common people, where the torments and the atypical conditions took part in distanced and marginalized societies worthy of, in the darkest of episodes, seclusion in concentration camps. The geniality, for its part, kept a certain fluctuant distance with the emotional instabilities determining, particularly from the 1950s onward, a turn in the perception of the irregular psychic conditions. The electroconvulsive therapy for the treatment of homosexuality, for example, have become repetitive frames in popular culture, opening even more the gap between mental illness and normativity. 

But it was psychoanalysis itself, with his construct of symbolisms – divan, spectacles, notebook – who’d allow the community certain linguistic elements to refer to mental diseases. In addition, certain clinical pictures like Post Traumatic Stress, slipped through the colloquial jargon, maybe in an expiatory thrust from the government to ease the scars of conflicts like the Vietnam War; or maybe as a precedent to what Woody Allen later would embody in his famous Annie Hall (1978), where the anhedonia (original title of the script) or “the inability to enjoy life” brought the public closer to the standardization of the mental illness, as well as the demystification of therapy, a constant subject in Allen’s early work, and a common place in his whole trajectory. 

This integration of therapy and the “more regular” conditions of emotional and psychological instability on the part of the great screen has made easier the normalization of the psychiatric discourse in a less specialized community. “Depression”, “Anxiety” and “Stress” are now common and vulgar terminology that has even lost its specificity. 

From 1970 onwards, the psychoanalytic therapy became part of an even elitist discourse, where the chamanic quest for wellbeing was anchored as a pillar of the derision of common problems, holding them as afflictions of wealthy societies. While some were struggling for a daily meal, who had time for childhood traumas?

Public circumstances like the Columbine massacre or Kurt Cobain’s suicide, putted back on the table the questioning of personality disorders and its reach in the teenage population. During the first decade of the 21st century, it would be bullying and its digital strands - as well as the social withdrawal product of the speed of technological development – what would decant once and for all in the public and frontal discussion of mental illnesses. 

According to the WHO (World Health Organization) around 20% of the child population undergo some mental disorder, of which 23% are for toxic substances use. The same organization estimates that 800,000 people commit suicide each year. Great part of the disorders emerges after other clinical pictures like the contagion of chronic diseases are being diagnosed. The violation of human rights in psychiatric patients has grown exponentially with the passage of the years, especially in societies with socio-economic crisis, who in turn have less resources for mental health welfare centers, having a rate of 0,05 psychiatrists and 0,42 psychiatric nurses for every 100,000 habitants. 

Today, the specific challenge is the normalization of the mental ill and his inclusion in the society, through the design of economic systems that allow treatment and social educational programs. But one of the most important features has been the public speech of famous personalities about the mental illnesses they struggle with; in a drive to dismantle myths and taboos that imprison the mental disease. 

 

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9 celebrities with mental conditions

Robin Williams, (1951-2014)

Comedian and American actor, known for his performances in movies like Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji, Good Morning Vietnam, Patch Adams and Dead Poets Society. After years struggling with cocaine and alcohol addictions, Williams finally decided to take his own life by hanging. Towards the end of his life he developed a neurodegenerative disease called Lewy Body Disease, which also presents a depressive symptomatology. The man that made so many laugh for so many years couldn’t stop the collateral effects of his addictions or the depression that usually accompanies diseases like Parkinson, and that no one is aware of. 

 

Brian Wilson, (1942)

Best known as the founder and co-vocalist of The Beach Boys, Brian Wilson is considered one of the most important composers in music history. Thanks to his approximations to the compositional process – working in more than two dozens top 40 songs – Wilson is a pioneer and a great influence in popular music. But he’s known as well for his complex personality. Between the toxic abuse during great part of his career, Wilson developed what would be later called a Schizoaffective Disorder, with episodes of hallucinations, paranoia and other distortions of reality. After two unconventional interventions by Dr. Eugene Landy, Brian Wilson no only recovered part of his achievements with his original band, but even his creativity for his solo career. 

 

Jim Carrey (1962)

Acclaimed comedian and actor, Jim Carrey is best known for his roles as Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, The Mask, Batman Forever y The Truman Show. He has made public his fight against depression through the abandonment of every medication and any stimulant of the nervous system. 

 

Megan Fox (1986)

The American actress and model has been catalogued as a sex symbol and one of the most beautiful women in the planet. Her life in the public scene has allowed her to refer to the mental illness in derogatory ways, in a constant fear to fall into the Marilyn Monroe stereotype. Her common impulses and her solitary temperament have raised inconclusive diagnosis about a possible borderline personality disorder. What’s really important here is to highlight that not all the public figures speak properly for the democratization of the mental condition. 

 

Jennifer Lawrence (1990)

The Oscar winner actress – for her role in Silver Linnings Playbook (2012) – better known for her performances in the X-men saga and The Hunger Games trilogy, has publicly spoken about her fight with social phobia during her teenage years, assuring that the incursion in performance worked in a therapeutic way. It’s fundamental that one of the most influential women in the world (according to Forbes, Time and Elle) speaks publicly about some conditions that affect the community without distinction. 

 

Michael Phelps (1985)

Phelps is an American professional swimmer with most awards in Olympic competitions. Is internationally known for beating records in three different styles and for keeping those for more than 4 years. Phelps has had severe problems with alcohol and self-destructive conducts. 

 

Demi Lovato (1992)

Lovato is a singer-songwriter and American actress, known for her career in the Disney Channel and for the success of her album Here We Go Again. Her career has been hindered for her excesses with toxics, bulimia and self-aggression episodes, after which she began treatment, being diagnosed with a bipolar disorder.

 

Leonardo DiCaprio (1974)

The Titanic actor and famous environmentalist spokesman has made public his fight against the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, characterized by intrusive, recurrent and persistent thoughts, accompanied by anxiety, apprehension, fear or constant, and apparently irrational, worries, that generate repetitive conducts named “compulsions”, that allow the patient to reduce the anxiety. The actor has spoken about his impulse to step on every gum stain in the street and compulsively cross a doorway. Opposed to his character in Aviator, DiCaprio is confident that he can “control” himself.

 

Carrie Fisher (1956)

Better known as Princess Leia, Fisher is an actress, novelist and screenwriter, diagnosed with bipolar disorder for her severe mood swings, joined with the consumption of cocaine and prescription pills. After an accidental overdose, Fisher wrote her play Postcards from the Edge, which would initiate her career as spokeswoman about mental illness, receiving this year the Harvard’s Annual Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism, for her dedication and activism in the democratization of mental illnesses.

 
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