Psychiatric Views on the Daily News - Episode 213

We Need More Public Mental Health Memes. Can You Think of Any?

How can we meme-ify mental health for the benefit of all?

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS

For the daily column yesterday, I emphasized voting for mental health for the midterm elections and closed it with a call for making mental health a political messaging priority. One way to enhance that collectively may be to find better ways to publicize it. Given our Twitter-driven brief communications, these could be brief memes or sayings.

One such mental health saying that has been around for decades, though I have not seen it used much with the public, is:

“There is no health without mental health.”

It is a derivative of a decades old saying of the psychiatrist Brock Chisholm, the first Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), who exclaimed that “without mental health there can be no true physical health.”1 However, actual policy continues to lag pretty far behind the veracity and evidence of the saying.

Another related attempt occurred almost a decade ago, as I covered in the posting “Psychiatric Billboards” from September 17, 2015. There was a psychiatric outcry of criticism when the well-known fashion designer Kenneth Cole conveyed this message via public billboards:

“OVER 40M AMERICANS SUFFER FROM MENTAL ILLNESS.

SOME CAN ACCESS CARE . . . ALL CAN ACCESS GUNS.”

Actually, I agreed with this statement, though suggested it could be better reworded to:

“Over 40 Million Americans Suffer From Mental Illness.

Getting Treatment Helps Prevent Gun Violence.”

There is an artist, Jenny Holzer, who has become well-known for her billboard truisms over recent decades.2 They are in some ways a modern application of those Burma-Shave one-liner ads of the 1950s. Holzer’s have been extended to electronics, chiseled into stone, or even reflected onto water. Some seem to relate to mental health, such as:

“PROTECT ME FROM WHAT I WANT.”

In September, a Manhattan art gallery opened a show of her art, which included an electronic sign of tweets by former president Donald Trump and from Q of QAnon. Agreeing or disagreeing with them would be in the eyes and minds of the beholders. She traces her concerns to a childhood of losing a brother in a motorcycle accident and her being sexually assaulted.

Similarly, more recently, a street poet called Boots has used public sayings to help her cope and grieve after a relationship ended.3 On Chicago sidewalks, she wrote:

“We’re all damaged. It’s how we still love with a broken heart that matters.”

“Invest in the ones who stay.”

She has since been invited to 37 states to make similar public messages.

It strikes me that organized psychiatry or individual psychiatrists could do the same. How about something like:

“PSYCHIATRY SAVES LIVES.”

“MANY PROFESSIONS DO PSYCHOTHERAPY;

OTHER PROFESSIONS PRESCRIBE MEDICATION;

PSYCHIATRISTS DO IT ALL.”

Back in the midst of the COVID pandemic, we asked you for 1- to 2-word descriptions of the pandemic year, and the editors produced a word cloud of the collected responses on March 24 and 28, 2021. Commentaries about what the words meant were also appreciated.

What would you come up with in 15 words or less to promote mental health?

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.

References

1. Kolappa K, Henderson D, Kishore S. No physical health without mental health: lessons unlearned? Bull World Health Organ. 2013;91(1):3-3A.

2. Crow K. The artist who warned us about meme culture. The Wall Street Journal. October 29, 2022. Accessed November 8, 2022. https://www.wsj.com/articles/jenny-holzer-artist-conceptual-work-profile-11666733077

3. Perez A. Meet Boots, the poet who leaves inspirational messages on Chicago’s sidewalks. Chicago Tribune. October 23, 2022. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-boots-poetry-sidewalks-street-art-chicago-20221023-qomj22oisjginjis23zqbyih2y-story.html