I am going to quickly relay some questions that have been whirling around in my head, for a little bit of time now. As I’ve mentioned earlier in the month, May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In such, it has been my goal to discuss anything and everything related to mental health. Unfortunately, it is now May 26th, and I haven’t done the best job of that. Nonetheless, with the 5 days left of the month, God willing, I plan to add as much to the conversation on mental health, as possible.

Here’s the questions:

You know the topic of mental health right? Ever considered the term most often used, in regard to mental health? Ever wondered why we use the term “mentally ill”? Consider perhaps, how mental health issues like, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, are deemed as diagnoses for the “mentally ill”?

Moreover, have you ever considered how these issues are now being likened to diseases, like cancer, for instance? What would make people believe that, something the world says is wrong in my head, is a disease? How do we even go about diagnosing those who are “mentally ill”? What methods are used? Considering mental health is actually based on something that occurs within one’s mind, how do people outside of one’s mind, diagnosis it?

Okay, I’ll break it down a little here. Mental health is as important as any other type of health. If your mind is not in good standing, the rest of your health will reflect such, one way or another. So, my questions are not centered on whether there is a such thing as having a healthy vs. an unhealthy mental. My questions surround the premise of how we as a society, decide what is mentally healthy vs. what is not.

Moreover, I am questioning who decides what is mentally healthy vs. what is not. This leads to the other layers upon layers of truth, surrounding mental health. For instance, what do we, as a society, use to treat per se, the mentally unhealthy? That would inherently, have a lot to do with, how we actually decide what is mentally healthy and what isn’t.

For instance, one of the most prominent members of society, that was once proudly socialized to represent the epitome of being mentally unhealthy, was… WOMEN!! Did you guess it? For the first several centuries of the U.S’ history as a country (not even gonna pretend to cover the rest of the world on this one), women (White women, that is*) were socially constructed to be viewed as emotional creatures, deeming them as less than mentally healthy. Go figure, this helped fuel the excuse for why women (White women, that is) shouldn’t be allowed to hold any job at first, and later, any job of leadership.

Women (White women, that is) could easily be deemed mentally unstable or ill, by their husbands, families (which often meant, fathers), and/ or even the state (which always meant, men in power), and subsequently, committed to a mental institution. If you have ever seen any American television show, predating the 1970’s in particular, this was all too often a running story-line.

From the ‘Mirror Image’ episode on the ‘The Twilight Zone’, to Mrs. Kravitz portrayal on ‘Bewitched’, it was absolutely normalized to display women (White women, that is) as crazy, emotional and often, institutionalized. If you have ever seen the movie, Changeling. Watched the ‘Slipping’ episode on the more recent show, ‘Cold Case.’ Or perhaps, readThe Yellow Wallpaper’, for instance. These few examples, display the ever-present normalization of women in the White community being stigmatized and often, institutionalized for being so emotional, that they were deemed what was then called, “ill,” and is now called, “mentally ill.”

The term hysteria, still sends chills down my body. The word was actually used as a medical term, to describe the mental state of women who were deemed “mentally ill,” and often subsequently, institutionalized. The procedure, called a hysterectomy, was doctors’ taking out women’s uterus’, per their diagnosis of hysteria. The entire term, just based on its root words of ‘hystera’ and ‘-ectomy’ (which respectively mean, ‘womb’ and ‘a cutting out’), is just messed up.

I’ll save my thoughts on its continued nature as the most common surgery among U.S. women, for another post. Inherently though, the idea in the early to mid 20th century of American history, was that women’s emotional, and inherent mental instability, was a result of her having a uterus. Of course, that makes sense, because a uterus is one of the few body parts that separate the social construct of “females” and “women” from “males” and “men.”

*Side note* For those that don’t speak sarcasm, the last 5 paragraphs, were mostly spoken in the language of sarcasm, packed with powerful truth.

I say all of that, to say this. The consideration of how to tackle the so-called stigma and/ or problem of the lack of awareness surrounding mental health, is to rethink the entire concept itself. If everything in a society, is socially constructed to fit the status quo of said society, there is no possible way of reforming, re-positioning or even destroying that society, without deconstructing the social constructs that work as its foundation.

We’ve heard this a time or two before. We must change the way we think. We must change the way we speak. Change the way we learn. Change the way we act. In fact, I believe my blessed soul of a brother, Tupac Shakur, initiated such thought in the lyrics of his song, ‘Changes. “Its time for us as a people to start making some changes, lets change the way we eat, lets change the way we live, and lets change the way we treat each other. You see the old way wasn’t working so its on us, to do what we gotta do to survive.” And the truth in those words, still reigns today.

Till this day, no one has the power to get into another person’s head, without that person’s invitation. Even still so, you can’t read people’s minds. Or can you? If I told people who I could read minds, they’d say I was crazy. If I proved it, by in fact reading a person’s mind aloud, I’d have grounds, depending on my circle at the time, to be institutionalized. The entire prospect of the illness, schizophrenia is that the person diagnosed, “believes” they can hear voices, or see figures, that are not there.

Let’s ponder on that for a second. How can someone, who can’t go inside a person’s brain (believe me, they tried… with a not so little something called a lobotomy), or read their thoughts, know what they hear in their own head? I’ll repeat that: how can a person, who can not go inside my brain or mind, or read my thoughts, know what I can or can not hear, in my own head? That doesn’t make sense. So, then one might say, ‘oh, but if the rest of us don’t hear it, then that’s how we know that you don’t really hear it.” Hunh? Run that by me, one more again. Has anyone ever read the book, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’?

Then, there’s the other obvious thing to consider. Ever seen one of those scary movies, when the couple is about to get it on, and one person hears a sound, that the other (usually more horny) person conveniently doesn’t hear? Ever heard something, seen something or even understood something, that literally no one else heard, saw or understood? Does that mean it was all in your head? Just because no one saw it? Does that mean our only validation of what is real, is through the validation of what other people say is real?

Then consider, the whole reality of LIARS!! People lie all the time. They say they didn’t see something, that they know darn well, they saw! Hence, my earlier mention of the amazing children’s book, titled, ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes.’ If I hear something, that no one else hears, does that really mean, I didn’t really hear it? Or perhaps, I am simply paying more attention to my surroundings, than those around me? Or maybe, I have better hearing abilities? Or even, I might be more committed to telling the truth about what I know to be true, even when no one else will? Is this concept, all that, idk… crazy?

I like to consider the television shows, Ghost Whisperer, The Listener and even the new psychic shows, like Medium and Psyche. On Ghost Whisperer, Jennifer Love Hewitt plays a woman named, Melinda, who can see and communicate with what this society calls, ghosts. She even has a partner, who though he can’t see them, can communicate with them, as well.

On the show, albeit they struggle with translating their gifts to the world around them, both characters seem relatively normalized in their comfort with acknowledging what they know that they can see and hear. If they were on the streets of NYC, for instance, they’d likely be deemed as “mentally ill.” If they were anywhere near the psyche ward I was in, they’d probably be diagnosed as schizophrenic.

There are episodes where, the characters are fighting very real physical battles, with spiritual beings, considered to be bad ghosts. If they were to play such episodes out in the real world, they’d be diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. The power of duality, folks! The power of the illusion of the physical.

For instance, I can attest to having such abilities. Most people I tell (though, not as many as I’d honestly expect), get freaked out, avoid further conversation and/ or even tell me that they don’t believe me. Now, when I start rambling off facts about them, that I’d have no way of knowing, unless I could (in the unreasonably small chance of probability, the world allows for such things) actually speak to passed on spirits, things really get weird.

Now, of course there are those naysayers, who are likely considering, if not arguing, that these examples are just television examples, hence their fictional basis. I would then beg your inquisitive minds to consider real life examples of people who submit to the acknowledgment of the existence of spirits, earthbound or not, and apply that acknowledgement to those who are gifted with the ability to communicate with such spirits. Another more “real” television example might be, the reality television shows, Long Island Medium, Ghost Hunters and Paranormal Witness. Then, there are the real life police departments and investigators, who are known to have used a psychic or two, for help with solving a case.

More importantly, for me at least, is the actual acknowledgement of such gifts, by non-western cultures all over the world. From the Caribbean and the lower Americas (Central and South), to all over Africa, Asia and even eastern Europe, the realm of the spiritual is alive and well, in common knowledge. In such, those who can communicate with such a realm, are not only acknowledged and accepted, but also highly revered.

There are those who use such powers or gifts for good, and those who use it for bad. Nonetheless, they exist. However, in the United States, those same people (if unfortunate enough to be the “wrong” color, speak the “wrong” language, represent the “wrong” financial background, or simply be attached to the “wrong” family), are institutionalized and diagnosed with an assortment of “mental illnesses,” including schizophrenia.  

Are you following me here? At all? Maybe just a little bit? I am not downplaying the realness of people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, anxiety, personality disorder and so many others. I’m not downplaying anything, in fact. I am up-playing (just made that word up, btw) it all. We take a great effort to create and use words, only to trivialize their meaning, and the inherent power behind their truth. If a person says that they see things, that you can’t and/ or won’t admit to seeing, perhaps, just perhaps, they’re not crazy! For darn sure, they’re not “mentally ill.”

The questions the doctors ask you, when in a mental institution, go a little something like this: What day is it? What time is it? Do you know what year it is? Who is the current President? Have you ever previously been diagnosed with a mental illness of any type? Have you ever been prescribed any medicine by a psychiatrist? (That one always gets me! Why not just ask, have I been prescribed medicine for the mental illness, you just led me into admitting I had/ have? I digress). Does anyone in your family have, or previously had a mental illness? Have they been diagnosed? If so, do they take medication?

Then the good questions come: Do you hear voices in your head, that no one else can hear? Do you see people or things, that no one else can see? Do you believe people or things, like the government, are out to get you? Do you ever get really happy, for no reason at all? Do you ever get really sad, for no reason at all? And then my personal favorite (which might not be as standard of a question, as they made it for me): Do you believe you are a prophet from God, sent to save the world? Do you liken yourself to Jesus Christ?

Man! These are the questions, along with family history, mental records, medical records and a host of other very social and socially constructed factors, that are used to determine if a person is “mentally ill.” Ever watched Law & Order before? This would be the part, when either the prosecutor or defense, should stand up and say, “Objection! Leading the witness!” In which, in a dream world, the judge would reply, “Sustained!” In this real world, more often than not, the judge would respond, “Overruled.”

I digress folks. I’m most definitely not sure how many people made it to this line of the post. Of those, how many understood anything past the title (if you even got that). And of those, how many are not cursing me out (yet, again) for challenging your mental muscles so much so, that you’ve got another headache, maybe even migraine.

Just because you don’t understand, doesn’t mean it doesn’t make sense. I’ll leave it off there. Have a blessed, #TellItTuesday folks, where we tell it like it is!! #POW

*Author’s Note* I make a point to mention White women, in reference to the early treatment of women as “mentally ill,” because Black, Native and any other women who weren’t White, were considered as less than human. Thus, they weren’t human enough to be considered women, by the society I’m speaking of.

Moreover, as a self-identified Black women, I can attest to the very outdated and often, annoying (even frustrating) ritual of using the term “women” to describe all women, when in reality it only speaks to very particular women. In as racialized, sexualized and gendered society as we live in, these points need to be made. If for no other reason, than to remind people like myself, that we are in fact, a part of this particular discussion of women (or left out, for particular reason).

There is in fact, a famous past time, in communities of marginalized women (whether Black, Trans, etc.), where the generalized term, “women” comes up, followed by some story that clearly does not relate to our kind of women. In which case, we quickly and dutifully tune out anything else said, thereafter. Transgender, Lesbian and bisexual women (whether White, Black, Native or another POC), for instance, did not exist, as far as said society was concerned. Hence, further reason, for this addendum. I digress.