San Francisco – The Exploratorium
A lecturer told me that she uses the following technique: when she teaches her students about mental illness, this is what she asks them to do: “Please study the picture of these five teenagers and choose the one you think is suffering from a mental illness.” Not one student in the class was able to pick out a person with a mental illness. Why? Because they look exactly like the rest of us. One in five people suffer from a mental illness during their lifetime. What can be done to help them? I think that the only solution is to break the deafening silence. It is hard for me to understand that the stigma of mental illness is still around even though the year is 2014.
STIGMA is defined as a discrediting trait that can reduce a regular person into a tainted one and this brings me to a question I ask very often. What is normal? Who is normal? Webster gives the following: usual, ordinary, not strange, mentally and physically healthy. Oxford: conforming to a standard, usual, typical, free from mental and physical disorders. Many previously normal people exhibit psychotic symptoms after a few nights without sleep – while the Urban Dictionary states: normal is a word made up by our corrupt society in order to single out and attack those who are different.
While visiting San Francisco recently, I visited an Exhibition on mental illness at the Exploratorium, which is a science center for children (not the ideal spot, I thought) And it was names: The Changing Face of What is Normal. This exhibition asks visitors to put themselves in the shoes of others and to imagine how at one time or another, everyone feels different. Normality is a constantly evolving concept with a surprising range of definitions. The myriad ways we label each other has possible implications. Ultimately, this exhibition prompts us to use the understanding of mental health as a lens to examine the way we perceive ourselves and our relationships with others.
Here are two brains. The one of the left belongs to a patient with schizophrenia, while the one on the right side belongs to a healthy volunteer. Note the differences.