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Stigma, Mental Illness and Gen/Sex

chelseam's picture

In the Foreword of the Price book, Tobin Siebers writes that there is a way in which teachers are called upon to diagnose their students; that there is "a hidden agenda of classroom teaching- what is being diagnosed in persistent and determined ways is the mental health of students" (xii). While I agree with the notion that teachers often end up "diagnosing" the mental health of their students, I don't think I agree with the sentiment that it is as deliberate as the phrase "hidden agenda" suggests. This argument made me think about the Summers I have spent teaching swim lessons to young kids. I found myself spending a lot of time thinking about how to better teach each individual swimmer, which is intrinsically connected to thinking about the ways each student thinks and how their needs might be different than those of other kids in the class. It seems to me that while an environment of quasi-medical diagnosis may be created in classroom environments, it may often be a product of a desire to better teach and not a deliberate quest to seek out difference. However, I agree with Price that academic environments can tend to cast a negative light on mental differences and create an even more hostile environment for such differences than is found in the rest of our interactions. 

It strikes me that the medicalization of mental or any disability makes it more difficult to embrace differences within our communities. Price points out that there is no such thing as a "normal mind." A thought that could be terrifying, especially in the world of academia which puts so much emphasis on knowledge and the use of the mind. Outside of academia the absence of a normal mind could be frightening as well. We often like to be able to think of ourselves as normal - as sane - and without a standard we have nothing to gauge ourselves by. However, embracing the lack of a norm also has the potential to be liberating. It may allow is to embrace difference, not just in the realm of mental health/experience but also in the world of gender and sexuality. 

This reading also made me think about a project my second cousin has been working on the past year. My family has a history of mental illness and he himself is hypomanic. He has been bike-riding around the world in an attempt to discuss and break down some of the stigma surrounding mental illness. The part of this project I find most powerful is the space on his website where individuals have been posting their stories and in one poster's words "coming out of the closet" with their mental illness. It strikes me that like differences in gender and sexuality, mental differences can lie beneath the surface. I would be interested to see how changes in the way mental illness is treated in the medical world could change the stigmas surrounding it (similar to the treatment of gender and sexuality differences as mental issues, instead of differences worth embracing).


Here is the website link (its not the fanciest of websites):