Mental Illness Is Next Semester

It was brought to my attention from a learned friend that the University here in London has run into some publicity. The University of Western Ontario newspaper, the gazette, published a cartoon with words to the effect “Why are you so happy?” “My brother was really depressed, but he finally hung himself.”

My neighbour hung himself as did his sister. I had a relative commit suicide. Two good friends from my hospital years killed themselves. There were more but I was less familiar with them. Therein lays the problem, familiarity.

I can recall coming out of my 30 hour coma and my brother saying quite the opposite.

One of my first thoughts to this was why this was not considered as offensive as the chants condoning non-consensual sex with a minor that we have come to know through other places of higher learning. Are there actually people on talk shows defending this cartoon and its publication?

The defense of or minimization of this cartoon is in fact stigma. We don’t condone sex with minors but we condone making fun of minors who commits suicide and therefore infer those who have similar thoughts are laughable at best.

I read a comment in response to the cartoon from someone claiming to have suffered from depression. They saw humour in it. It can be a blessing to have depression that does not involve suicidal ideation. It is also a blessing to be on the side of mental health that has you on a message board making opinions. We need to consider the student in her room. The one who although beautiful and bright is unable to see her place, success or happiness in this thing called university. To her friends seem to belong to others and her isolation is found in crowded hallways. This young woman needs our help not our laughter. When she sees a publication representing her peers and the university community in general making light of the very thoughts in her head, she can only hang it in shame. She keeps quite, she masks, she isolates and her wounds become infected by our very words.

Crazy, out of it, best let be, she internalizes our attitudes and they become fuel for an ever unfavourable opinion of self. She becomes slang, she becomes a put down, she becomes a joke.

For those who see no error; no foul, it may be constructive to self reflect. It is possible your attitude of indifference or acceptance is stigma itself. To not be offended about this cartoon raises more questions about the self than about any larger argument. A joke is not funny because someone calls it a joke. If it was a race, a sex or even a sexual orientation, students would have signs about the campus. Mental illness is next semester or an elective at best.

You can call me thin skinned but as likely we have grown thick in apathy. It was only a cartoon, there must be larger fights; maybe so but you have to stop the dog from digging before you can fill in the hole.

There was humour in the underage sex chants, no one meant any harm. A nation said no. An institution said no. If we are to combat one of the worst side effects of mental illness we must again say no.

We can be forgiving of all this. We are all learning, students more so. We need to impress on our students that the pages they write on are empty if not saturated by their humanity and the fine things they already know. To make grades is a worthy aim but if respect, love and compassion are left in lockers they are only ink on a page. We all make mistakes but if compassion, love and respect are woven into them, they can never be called failures.

I drive by the University of Western Ontario most days. Hope walks past my car when I wait at the light. The young men and women I see carry the cures, the solutions and they are being carved to make the decisions that will shape a future that I may reside in and surely my blood. We can be disappointed in what is instilled in a generation but the responsibility belongs to us all. How can we expect our children to have the discretion to not make light of the suffering of an illness when we laugh at the same jokes?

I suspect this news will not hit the funny bone of the roughly 4000 Canadian families who are affected by suicide each year. We can only hope they are too busy running fingers over old photographs to see this story.

It is not my place but it seems to me if resignations were in order at universities where chanting was heard, the same might be in order at a broader distribution of offensive utterances. As a solution to the very stigma they spread, those responsible should step aside. Your peers can only have respect at your active acknowledgement that mental health stigma is wrong; unacceptable.

3 thoughts on “Mental Illness Is Next Semester

  1. It’s a comic. Drawn by kids. In a student newspaper. Depicting T-shirts. That doesn’t resolve in suicide. A silly pun, for which they apologized. Grow up, and stop being so sensitive

    • Dearest Dan,

      Thanks so much for your comments. It is unfortunate I can’t see your face as I would like to see the eyes of ignorance.

      I will not argue my need to grow up because the very sensitivity you accuse me of is maturity itself.

      If sand must be thrown across the sandbox, please know that what you try to cover me with only exposes you. You have established your insensitivity which thus proves your immaturity.

      When I was the age to play in sandboxes, the people around me instilled in me the importance of and the practice of empathy.

      I suspect that immaturity hinders your ability to consider how this cartoon might impact someone who is experiencing similar mental health symptoms. Possibly you can neither consider the cartoon’s meaning for a loved one who has lost a friend, sibling or child to suicide.

      Students or “kids” as you refer to them construct a virtual adult world. They have unions, executives, a newspaper and more. If any “adult” newspaper carried a cartoon poking fun at a disability and its life altering ramifications, resignations would follow.

      These “kids” can be expelled for plagiarism. If using another’s words as your own is an offence what are the cartoon words to be considered?

      I thank you Dan for your argument.

      Brett Charles Batten

    • Dan, your reply smacks of passive aggression. The time is past for ill-considered words or choices to be excused for the reasons you list. These occasions are opportunities for long held views to be re-examined and for lessons to be learned by all concerned, especially by the young (although they are not “kids”). It is not helpful to respond the way you did.

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