Posted by Maria Mangicaro
As Susannah’s condition moved inexplicably from violent behavior to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans seemed worthless. Her doctors were ready to commit her to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning her to a lifetime of institutions, or death.
Fortunately for Susannah, neurologist Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—was consulted. Dr. Najjar asked her to draw one simple sketch, which helped him to accurately assess an underlying autoimmune disease and prevent her from being considered schizophrenic.
Dr. Najjar estimates that nearly 90 percent of those suffering from autoimmune encephalitis go misdiagnosed with schizophrenia stating: ”It’s a death sentence when you’re still alive, many are wasting away in a psych ward or a nursing home.”
Fighting the stigma associated with symptoms of “mental illness” is not easy. Ms. Cahalan’s case is important as it shows how stigma can be replaced with sympathy, compassion and understanding once an underlying medical condition is discovered to be the cause of psychotic behavior.
Feeding the stigma of “mental illness” by glamorizing psychosis is a concern of Laura Pogliano. Laura’s son has been dealing with symptoms of psychosis for four years and I’ve obtained her permission to re-post her open letter to Vs Magazine regarding a very stigmatizing photo spread and video featuring Eva Mendes.
Open Letter to Vs Magazine Re Stigma Eva Mendes
by Laura Pogliano
I’m writing to let you know how insulting and damaging the Eva Mendes photo spread “Crazy for Eva!” is in your online Vs. magazine. Retold in words, the spread’s story is: Eva is incarcerated in a mental hospital, overmedicated and restrained, then let out of her restraints to bum a cigarette from Evil Nurse; delusional Eva snuggles up to a lion statue. She tries to escape, climbing the wall to get out. Wiley, psychotic Eva dons a disguise! Eva in designer wig calls for help, gets caught, tries to hide the evidence…Eva’s restrained, chained to a bed in a psychiatric ward, but luckily, in spikey black heels and red dress. Eva gets loose, and the Evil Nurse is revealed as strangled with the phone cord at the end.
Friends, click here for the link to this incredible stupidity.
I almost cannot believe what I saw, or that Eva Mendes agreed to do that. I can’t believe that at no point before the publication of this ridiculous spread did a single person in any capacity on your staff have the idea that it’s not nice to make fun of sick people, no matter the illness.
My 21 year old son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder type I, with psychotic and catatonic features four years ago. Recently, his diagnosis was revised to schizophrenia. He’s had 7 separate psychiatric hospitalizations in the last 4 years as his medicine is adjusted and his illness is managed. Six months into his breakdown, he’d lost everything you can lose: his private school, girlfriend, friends, self-esteem, sports, audition at Berklee Music College; he had Parkinson’s-like features: no facial expressions, extreme tremors, stiff posture, difficulty even walking. He entire personality disappeared; he deteriorated into a crippled, non-communicating, paranoid person who wouldn’t leave the house in case he got stabbed; wouldn’t eat in case his food was poisoned; couldn’t remember my name, so he called me, “Hey Lady;” answered the door to people who weren’t there. Day after day I went to work (because people who AREN’T Eva Mendes have to hold down jobs while their families crumble) and prayed he was safe, only to come home and have to break into my own house as he was barricaded inside in terror.
That’s the reality of severe mental illness. It is completely horrible, completely heartbreaking, and a tragedy for every single victim and their families.
I’m curious: What informed your ideas on how mental patients behave and how they are currently treated? Episodes of Law and Order? Who thought an ad like this would be sexy? That person needs a demotion for not doing his homework properly. Mental patients are absolutely not treated the way you depicted. My son’s care in the Meyer Mood Disorder Unit at Johns Hopkins Hospital was compassionate, caring, diligent, methodical, process-driven and extremely well-informed. In fact, it was literally life-saving. I visited him almost every day, for every stay, for a total of nine months overall.
His piano teacher continued lessons at the hospital. He was visited by teachers, friends, family, parents of his friends, during each hospitalization. He had cooking lessons, we went swimming together, and took walks around the campus. None of us ever saw a single incident of the images you’re proposing as patient care and patient behavior.
Mainly due to the last 50 years of incredibly hard work by doctors, researchers, and advocates for mental illness and the progress they’ve made in our understanding overall of these devastating brain illnesses and their treatments, all of which produces better treatment models, better pharmaceuticals, better overall outcomes. Until people of influence and culture at large quit propogating the terrible stereotypes you published, the stigmas that impede and abound in mental illness issues will continue to proliferate and be accepted as fact. Guess what disease is the hardest to fund raise for? Which one has the least amount of health coverage, nationwide? Which illness, if you’re unlucky enough to get it, often ends with a prison sentence instead of medical care? Mental illness. See the connection?
Even with ample insurance, in four years I have spent, out of pocket, more than 225K dollars on my son’s doctors, hospitalizations, care, transportation, therapy and medicines. His beautiful sister, my daughter, got married this year; she’s been cheated out of years of loving attention due to emergencies and grief; she’s been an staunch supporter in handling this catastrophe, and then, when she needed her mother most, and deserved to celebrate all her accomplishments as she starts her new life, I couldn’t give her a single thing, not even a wedding gift. My son has made amazing strides in recovering large parts of his life because we’ve been lucky to some extent, and because the doctors we’ve had have partnered up with us and have been tireless in helping, careful and dedicated to his recovery–and because they’ve helped educate me in navigating an illness with no roadmap, disconnected services, and very little outside support and buy in from the general public.
I’m super ashamed of your magazine, and Eva Mendes and Ellen von Unwerth the photographer for depicting ANY mental illness in the archaic, damaging way you did, and glamourizing the very real stigmas mental patients suffer. Tell Eva that my beautiful son was crying one day in a moment of clarity and asked me, “Mom, what if this is my whole life? What if this is all I ever am?” Eva should know how sexy that isn’t.
Ultimately, the biggest harm you’ve done is that your public portrayal of mental patients as out of control, drugged out, murderous, chained, wiley escapees, even in a designer wig, has the potential to make any person who could be struggling with mental illness afraid to tell the truth about his symptoms and seek help. The fact that you got to publish this, completely uncensored, speaks volumes to the acceptance of your erroneous portrayal, culturally. The stigma associated with mental illness is the biggest factor in patients not receiving the help and support they need to get well and, most important, stay well. My son spent a year hearing voices before he admitted it, afraid even his mother would reject him. No one had to tell him to be ashamed of himself (but you just did, should he ever see this magazine).
I am posting your ridiculous spread on Facebook and Tweeting it (uh-oh!) with a request to boycott your magazine, and the obviously self-absorbed, overly privileged Eva Mendes. I am sending the link to this horrible photo spread to the NAMI organization headquarters in Maryland, and every other mental health organization and care giver whose email I can find. I copied every doctor and friend I know who might just agree with me, that Vs. Magazine needs to seriously rethink its attitude toward then mentally ill. I dare you to try a similar photo spread, “sexing up” another illness, like cancer, or Downs Syndrome, or AIDS. See what kind of public response you get.
As far as your “cutting edge” photo spread…Unfortunately, it’s NOT cutting edge, actually, to rely on stereotypes and cultural fears to sell an idea. It panders to mediocrity and low brow intelligence.
Were you trying to recall the “good old days” when mental patients were demonized, mistreated, overmedicated, abused and lobotomized, and reinvent them as sexy? Why not go with slavery imagery instead? Eva could be bound in a line of sexy, scantily clad, petrified girls getting ready to be sold at market and raped by white slave masters. Those were good times, too.
Outside of my little world, I hope enough people write to you and describe how offensive, totally inaccurate and injurious that photo spread is. I hope that the cutesy, fashion-forward twenty-somethings in 6 inch heels who brainstormed on the best way to make Eva look ‘hot’ have very, very good health insurance. I hope Ellen Von-Idiot Unwerth herself is severely underinsured. I think you all need to read a real medical chart of an institutionalized, chronically mentally ill woman with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, especially from the time period your ad harkens to, and see how many times she’s been raped, had abortions, been homeless, robbed, beaten, jailed, or taken advantage of because she’s ill–because it’s not real sexy. Here’s a real comment, verbatim, from a chart of a mentally ill woman I used to care for: “8 pregnancies, No live births.” (Hmmm….) Her fault. Must be those designer pumps. It’s extremely interesting to me that Eva Mendes is a self-appointed champion of women’s rights globally, but then willingly harms the children and sufferers of brain illnesses right in her own back yard.
Please educate yourselves. Charlie Rose did an excellent 12-part series on brain science, which you can view online. Episode 9 deals with the mentally ill brain, and features two of the most prominent advocates for this issue, both of whom suffer from severe mental illnesses, Elyn Saks, a Law Professor, and Kay Redfield Jamison of Johns Hopkins Hospital, voted best in world 21 years running.
You can view the program here.
Finally, here’s a picture of a REAL FAMILY with a severely ill “mental patient.” One of us is a teacher at the Navy, one a manager at a non-profit, one a successful senior advertising copywriter, and one is a musician and active volunteer. And one of us is a real mental patient. I can break that down for you: there are only 4 people in the picture, but five categories. So one person is BOTH a productive person and a mental patient.
I’m also including the photo because if we’re having a “sexiest mental patient contest,” which I sort of feel like we are, now that Vs. gave Eva Mendes the fake title, MY FAMILY WINS.
Shame on you, Vs. Magazine.
Shame on Eva Mendes.
You have heaped more stigma on the already unbearable amount of scorn and shame people with bonafide brain illnesses face every single day. I think you should donate an amount equivalent to Ms. Mendes’ photo shoot fee to NAMI or another organization that assists brain illness patients with recovery, because that’s how big companies and the overly privileged say ‘I’m sorry.’