Honestly, this was a scary step for me. It’s easy for me to be an advocate for mental health behind a computer screen, but to show up in person made me feel vulnerable and exposed. I was also nervous because I was prepared to share a little about our family’s situation, I thought it would be necessary in order to bring awareness and create compassion if she saw an affected family face-to-face. So I swallowed my fears and headed directly to her office.
I first acknowledged all the hard work the staff did to put this event on and let her know that I didn’t intend to diminish their efforts by what I was about to say. She immediately responded with, “I didn’t see you at the event that night.” I said, “Well yes, our family chose not to go because of the Asylum theme.” I explained that we have a child with a mental illness and found the premise to be offense and didn’t want to expose our children to it.
I then explained how the individual scenes were images of real symptoms for those suffering with mental illness and portraying them at a family event is not only offensive but hurtful—pointing out that they would never have done a cancer ward theme. I shared how families like mine are affected by the stigma of mental illness and how my son has lost two of his best friends because the parents were scared of his illness. I told her that this event only feeds into those fears and strengthens the stigma that we’re trying to fight.
She was very good at listening, only stopping me briefly to say that the event was suppose to be a play off of old movies like One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest. In response, I told her that I understood their intentions were never to be offensive, but explained that it was possible that a girl who was privately cutting herself may have attended that night and been negatively impacted if she saw the scene of a girl slicing into her body with the signs “Danger! Psychos!” hanging on the walls. I explained how this girl might be afraid of being labeled a “psycho” and as a result may avoid treatment. I then told her that my son has experienced psychosis and questioned what he’d think of himself had he seen those signs on the walls?
I then shared that, as parents, we face ridicule for medicating our son and that their mockery of a MED STATION only adds to the abuse we feel.
I also reminded her about the high suicide rate in our small town and that this event doesn’t support those parents who found their children dead.
She seemed to be really listening, admitting that she had no idea families like ours were dealing with these issues. At one point her eyes softened and she started to tear up a little. She said, “You know, I did have a gut feeling that this would be wrong in the very beginning, but the younger staff members talked me out of it.” She then went on to share how she grew up with a child who was disabled and was well aware of the struggles that individuals face when they’re different than the “norm”.
Before I left I asked her if they would consider not using mental illness as a theme in the future and to remove the offensive images off of facebook.
She nodded her head in agreement and apologized for their insensitivity and promised she would have a talk with her staff.
I left feeling pretty proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and was hopeful that this conversation may have a positive affect somewhere down the road. It’s the best I can do.