Stigma and Mental Illness

By David Trend

“The more I became immersed in the study of stigmatized mental illness, the more it astonishing to me that any such phenomenon should exist at all,” writes Robert Lundin, a member of the Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research. “I believe that serious and persistent mental illnesses, like the one I live with, are clearly an inexorably no-fault phenomena that fully warrant being treated with the same gentleness and respect as multiple-sclerosis, testicular cancer or sickle-cell anemia.”[i] Here Lundin names a central of problem in the social construction of mental illness: the misunderstanding of conditions affecting the mind as somehow different from other biological illness. The misrecognition renders mental illness prone to the judgmental attributions discussed by Susan Sontag in her 1973 book Illness as Metaphor.  To Sontag, contemporary society reverses ancient views of sickness as a reflection of the inner self.  In this new view, the inner self is seen as actively causing sickness––through smoking, overeating, addictive behavior, and bad habits: “The romantic idea that disease expresses the character is invariably extended to exert that the character causes the disease–because it is not expressed itself. Passion moves inward, striking within the deepest cellular recesses.”[ii] But as before, the sick person is to blame for the illness.

Such sentiments are especially vindictive when a mentally ill person commits a crime. Understandably perhaps, clinical terms like “mental illness” quickly acquire malevolent meanings in the public mind––even though the mentally ill statistically are no more prone to criminality than anyone else. Sometimes this semiotic slippage causes public panic over commonplace disorders. Consider the case of Adam Lanza, the young man who in 2013 shot 26 children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Massachusetts. While mental health analysts speculate that an acute psychotic episode prompted his violence, Lanza never had been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. As reporters scrambled for a story, much was made of Lanza’s childhood symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome, a form of high-functioning autism. The repeated mention of this disorder in news coverage triggered wrong-headed fears nationally of the murderous potential in other autistic kids. According the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 1 in 50 people (1.5-million) fall somewhere on the autistic spectrum, 80 percent of whom are boys.[iii] This has prompted improved diagnostic measures, which in turn have resulted in an apparent rise in autism cases in recent years––up 78 percent from a decade ago––and made autism a source of acute anxiety for many new parents. Continue reading “Stigma and Mental Illness”

The “ambisexual” Stravinsky

Today’s edition of Edge carries a review of Robert Kraft’s new book “Stravinsky: Discoveries and Memories”(Naxos Books), with some biographical insights not hitherto examined.images

“Craft’s book drops a bomb that, in the tawdry modern way, could yet overshadow the other Rite thinking that has attended the recent 100th anniversary.

“Calling his revelation “long overdue” yet timely in sense that things have changed, the world has changed, and these things can now be talked about, Craft writes, “It will come a surprise to most people that in the early Diaghilev period Stravinsky was exclusively in an ambisexual phase while writing ’Petrushka’ and ’The Rite of Spring.’ ”

“Even without the head-scratchers of “exclusively,” “ambisexual” and “phase,” “surprise” is a stunner of an understatement predicting the storm of controversy his assertion that Stravinsky had sex with men in the period in which he was composing “The Rite” would stir up, as it has. It would have been a poor calculation for Craft, whose career as a musician and writer, and whose own personal fame, rest on his long association with Stravinsky as colleague and confidant, to steal his master’s thunder in the Rite Year. But Craft had to know that his contention, and the raft of evidence of whatever reliability he has supplied to support it, would sell books. Whatever else, Craft is back in the news, right alongside the master. Continue reading “The “ambisexual” Stravinsky”

Your child is fat

imgresAbout 69 percent of American adults are overweight or obese, and more than four in five people say they are worried about obesity as a public health problem, reports NPR:

“But a recent poll conducted by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health revealed a curious schism in our national attitudes toward obesity: Only one in five kids had a parent who feared the boy or girl would grow up to be overweight as an adult. Continue reading “Your child is fat”

Sugar is the new tobacco

Among the least likely viral megahits on YouTube is a 90-minute lecture by the food scold and pediatric endocrinologist Robert Lustig, entitled “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.”

“Public reception of Lustig’s new book, Fat Chance, will likely be just as divided,” reports todays imgres-2 “The book repeats and expands on the main point of contention in the sugar wars: whether our bodies treat all calories the same. The old guard says yes: A calorie is a calorie; steak or soda, doesn’t matter. Eat more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight. Continue reading “Sugar is the new tobacco”