Thursday, October 10, 2013

Mental Health Awareness 2013: 4 Points to Consider

It's Mental Health Awareness week (Oct. 6 - 12, 2013), and it is sad to know of all the people who have died due to mental illness, such as actor Lee Thompson Young. His story, like all similar stories, is tragic. I noticed that his particular story brings to light many of the things people are not aware of with mental illness.

Here are 4 points I think we need to consider in raising awareness regarding mental illness and suicide. (Reading this article first will help you see why I am raising these points in connection with Young's story.):
  1. Medication does not fix everything. It is a myth that medication fixes mental illness in everyone. Young was on medication for bipolar and it was even found in his blood that he was actually taking it. Medication works great in some people, helps a little for others, may not help at all in some, and for others it actually makes them worse. We need to be aware and look at all aspects of a person's life if we are to help people treat their mental illness. We can't just put people on med's and think they will be fine. In fact, almost all of these medications have warnings on them that they can all cause suicidal thoughts and actions.
  2. Being religious is not an illness. In the article about Young's death, it states that the coroner had made a point to report that Young had an altar in his house, implying that his religion had something to do with his mental illness. Then other news outlets have been saying his faith caused his depression, almost insinuating that the religion was cult-like. It is not weird to have an altar in your house. If someone had a wall of crosses in their house (many Christian's do), no one would even think to say this had anything to do with their illness. Can I also say that there is clearly a race and culture issue here as well? The only time religion should be considered a factor in mental illness is if the person was treated badly, shamed, or bullied in their faith due to their illness or any other reason. This could happen in any faith. There is not reason to think that Young's faith was a result of mental illness or a cause of it. When I first went into ministry and people found out I was bipolar, I often was asked "Are you sure you are not just experiencing hyper-religiosity? You know that's a symptom of bipolar."
  3. Not all people with mental illness look "unstable." A lot of this article focuses on how Young never exhibited symptoms of illness. He was stable, he had a stable family, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. What people don't realize is that mental illness is ordinary. We live and work in your communities. It is an invisible disability and we should not be so shocked to find out someone who seemed "normal" has a mental illness. Mental illness does not always mean visible instability. Also, those of us with mental illness know we are not allowed to have a voice because of the stigma around our illness, and so we often hide our illness.
  4. Believing "If only we knew, if only we paid more attention" does not always stop a suicide. No matter how hard we try, we can not stop death due to any illness 100%. There is no benefit in engaging in collective or individual guilt over a suicide. Young's story shows that we may never be able to adequately see the severity of a person's illness. True, we always need to do the best we can to help keep people safe, within the confines of the actual knowledge we have. In some cases though, there really are no visible signs, at least not ones that most people would recognize, before a suicide. In fact, many people seem to have a decrease of symptoms of their illness a few days or weeks before a suicide. Young saw his doctor on August 14 and he appeared fine. He died by suicide just days later on August 19, 2013. I recommend taking a Mental Health First Aid class in order to know how to properly asses a potential suicide, to the best of your ability, knowing that we can't predict everything.  

Rev. Katie

Friday, October 4, 2013

Did Sinead O'Connor Slut-Shame Miley Cyrus?

This is my second post about the whole Miley Cyrus/Sinead O'Connor issue, you can read the first one here. (Basically, I think both of them did things that were inappropriate.)

Many people on the internet are applauding Sinead for advising Miley not to pimp herself out for men and the music industry who do not care about her. While I understand the message Sinead was trying to go for, namely not to let other people use you, it does come dangerously close to being slut-shaming.

Slut-shaming is when a person publicly or privately calls out a woman for being "too sexual" (in action, dress, or for any other reason) and not conforming to societies ideas of what is acceptable for a woman. Read a few excerpts from Sinead's letter to decide for yourself if you think it fits the definition of slut-shaming:

"I am extremely concerned for you that those around you have led you to believe, or encouraged you in your own belief, that it is in any way ‘cool’ to be naked and licking sledgehammers in your videos. It is in fact the case that you will obscure your talent by allowing yourself to be pimped, whether its the music business or yourself doing the pimping."

I think this could have been worded better. I am not a fan of the whole "Don't dress or act like that or other people will hurt you message" because I believe no ones dress is responsible for another person's bad actions. Also, saying Miley pimped herself out is basically publicly calling her a prostitute. That sounds like shaming to me.

Sinead goes on to say:

"This is a dangerous world. We don’t encourage our daughters to walk around naked in it because it makes them prey for animals and less than animals, a distressing majority of whom work in the music industry and it’s associated media."
This part is especially concerning to me. Men walk around all the time in nothing more than boxers and no one says anything. A girl puts on a bikini and the whole country gets upset. We hold men to a different standard than women, assuming women need to cover themselves up so as to not incite "prey" to hurt us. What?! If a naked body incites you to harm another person, that is your issue, not the problem of the naked person. And, can we please remember that our American issues with sexuality and nakedness are not shared by the whole world.
Copyright: Katie Norris

We also, as a society, seem to think that because we all saw Miley grow up in front of us on the Disney Channel that we all have a say in her choices. This is exemplified by Sinead's comment: "So this is what I need to say… And it is said in the spirit of motherliness and with love." Motherliness and love, the two words we use just before we shame someone. We think that if we say something we are doing is done out of "good intentions" that what we are about to say is justified. America, we are not Miley's mother and I do not believe mother's (or parents) have the right to shame their children anyway.

I think the underlying message in Sinead's letter was meant to be that women claim their power and sexuality for themselves, not because they think it will sell more records. It could have been said without the slut-shaming language which not only effects Miley but every other woman who wears a bikini, dances in a certain way, or falls out of our social norms. Maybe we should seek to understand before we judge. By creating a national scandal out of Miley's actions, we only brought out her defensiveness rather than anyone asking her what she wants from her career and what she wants from her life. I am not saying we do not address consequences of our actions. We can talk about the realities of being judged in our society by what we do and how much of that judgement we are willing and able to take on at this point in our lives. We can help people discern what is right for them rather than telling them what is right for them. Maybe we should also consider the power dynamic here. The power of a male industry and older male directors over a young woman. Could you imagine being put in her position? To even think that you have the ability to make your own choice when those with so much power over you probably say you do not? Just something to consider.

I don't care if Miley is naked on a wrecking ball, I don't care what she wears, and I don't care how she dances, as long as she does these things for herself, with intention, and not because she thinks it will cause a scandal or to be rebellious, and especially not if she feels powerless to make her own choice. I don't have the right to judge what she wears or if she licks a wrecking ball, and really, why do I care anyway?

I am far more concerned about the disgusting message of Robin Thicke's Blurred Lines song than Miley's dancing. In fact, it is not Miley's sexuality and dress that bothered me the most about the Video Music Awards, but other more important issues. Such as Miley sharing the stage with Robin Thicke in singing about dominating women. (Do we really think Miley had a choice in that decision? And why is she the only one being blamed for it?) Then there are the issues of race in Miley's performance when she uses African American women as props. Miley also culturally misappropriated twerking. This has resulted in a judgement of twerking as inappropriate and it sends a terrible message to the African American community for whom this is their dance form. Again, I will reiterate that while I say Miley did these things, we have to understand that "Miley" is not one woman but a whole industry of people telling her what to do and I don't know how much power I would feel I had in that situation at 20 years old. Heck at 34 I don't know if I could stand up to the people she had to deal with.

While these issues mainly concern two people, I think it illustrates a much bigger issue in our society. We think we can tell people who they are and who they can be, and then we assume they will be healthy of body and mind. That's just not true. We destroy people by shaming them. And, one act of shame creates another, such as how Miley then responds to Sinead by shaming her for having mental illness. How is this cycle healthy for either one of them?


Rev. Katie

Miley Cyrus Shames Sinead O'Connor for Having Mental Illness

This is the first of two posts on the Miley and Sinead issue. Please see my other post here. (Basically, I think both of them did things that were not all that helpful.)

Some of you may be following the Miley Cyrus/Sinead O/Connor debacle. Basically due to concern over Miley's recent performance on the Video Music Awards, her Wrecking Ball video, and then Miley saying that she was inspired by Sinead's work, Sinead wrote an open letter to Miley. Sinead voiced her concern that Miley was allowing the music industry to exploit her. Miley replied immediately by shaming Sinead for having mental illness.

First of all, I can't even believe I wrote the paragraph above. I feel like I am in high school with a bunch of petty girls who don't know how to communicate directly with each other.

Second, I believe both Sinead and Miely behaved poorly in this encounter. Indirect communication almost always ends in fighting and slander. I do understand the greater purpose in open letters and possibly why Sinead made that choice. Open letters are not only for the person you are writing to, but they are a social commentary, written to bring larger issues to light to society. Sinead's letter was not really just a message for Miley, but for the music industry as well and to raise awareness in our society about the industry and how it exploits people. I think it was also a message to young women who might idolize Miley and want to act like her.

Copyright: Katie Norris
 Miley's response to Sinead's letter was to post old tweets from Sinead when she was in the middle of a mental health crisis, asking for help. Miley tweets these by first shaming Amanda Bynes by tweeting "Before Amanda Bynes...There was..." and then posting the old tweets from Sinead about needing mental health care. (Amanda Bynes was recently in the psychiatric hospital.)

This whole thing is a great example of why every person with mental illness knows it is not safe to tell our story and it is not safe to ask for help when we need it. In her last tweet Sinead says "I realize I will be in trouble for saying this but...Ireland is a VERY hard place to find help in. So having tried other ways first, I'm asking."

She was right. She did get in trouble for asking for help and being proactive about her treatment. Two years later it is being used against her.

While I am not thrilled with the indirect communication between these two women and the vitrol with which both of them communicate, I do think that this whole ordeal brings up a few of the issues people with mental illness struggle with.

First is that we are not free to ask for help or tell our story because other people will not only judge us negativly in our time of need, but also for the rest of our lives.

Second it shows how if you talk about your mental illness, few people ever take your seriously again and they will use your illness against you if they have a disagreement with you.

Third it points out just how hard it is for people with mental illness to find work. Sinead came out with another open letter to Miley stating: "If you cannot apologize I will have no choice but to bring legal precedings against you since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness."

Fourth, Sinead's statement quoted above shows a deeper issue in society. We tend to promote a myth that mental illness goes away, that you recover from it and it never effects you again. We like this myth because it is convenient for society to think it's an illness that can be cured. For those of us living with it we play into the myth as well because we know society cannot handle the reality that mental illness is a chronic illness so we cover up the fact that we live with it every day. For some people yes, the illness is something they completely recover from, but this is rare. In order for people to hire you, listen to you, even think you deserve a family or a life at all, you have to pretend like you are fine most of the time. I find it sad that even those of us living with mental illness have to pretend like we don't have it because society does not understand that even in the midst of pretty severe illness we can work and be reliable.

I think this whole Cyrus vs. O'Connor thing has gotten way out of hand. They are just both shaming each other back and forth. When we use shame tactics to "teach" others, it never works out well. Shame destroys people and I think we can see how this is happening to both of these women.


Rev. Katie
If you cannot apologize I will have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness. - See more at:
If you cannot apologize I will have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness. - See more at:
If you cannot apologize I will have no choice but to bring legal proceedings against you since it is extremely hard to be given work when people think one is suffering from mental illness. - See more at:

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Halloween Tip: How to Dress Like a Crazy Person!?

Halloween. A fantastic holiday where you can be anyone you want to be and eat tons of candy. Some of my favorite costumes through the years have been Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Bright, a girl from the 50's, Belle, and some really great spiderweb eye makeup one year. I love to dress up like other people, but did you know that for around $30 you can dress up this Halloween like me?

Apparently, according to Sears Department Stores, I look like this:

There are quite a few options on Amazon, including this one here, but you really need to get the "crazy eyes" down to make it look authentic:

If you spend $50 apparently you can get the sexy version of "Goin' Out of My Mind":

Oppressive, and stigmatizing costumes abound at Halloween. Please choose your costumes wisely.


Rev. Katie

P.S. Good news from the UK, "mental patient" costumes were taken out of stores recently!