My new boss has come up with a great idea to reduce the stigma of mental illness. In honor of Mental Health Day in October she’s decided we should have a parade through the center of the city. She called me into her office.
“Aussa? Do you have a moment to join us?”
A well dressed and frightened young man sat across from her conference table. He quickly brought me up to speed on their plan. He’d suggested an open house at the hospital, but she thought a parade would make more of a “splash” and be an important part of her legacy.
“I don’t know much about parades,” I said, which was my way of saying “please don’t make me be involved in this, please don’t make me be involved in this.”
She went on to explain her clusterf*ck of an idea and I quickly changed my mind. I DEFINITELY wanted to be involved in anything that reeks of such stupidity and short sightedness.
Here’s the breakdown of her big stigma-busting idea:
1. A parade through the center of the city. (In two months. Because shutting down major streets is totally NoBigDeal.)
2. We’ll charge local businesses a couple hundred dollars to participate. (Because real estate offices, dentists, and children’s clothing boutiques would never pass up such an opportunity).
3. People will want to participate because it will almost be Halloween and it would be a lot like going to a Haunted House (because we definitely want to associate mental health treatment with Satan and chainsaw-wielding psycho killers).
4. Each float will have something to do with mental illness (Something tells me she’s not talking about a pickup truck with excerpts of the DSM-V.)
“Picture it,” she said. “We can get some of those old nurse outfits like the Joker wore in Batman, and they can be Nurse Ratcheds like in ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.’”
I nodded slowly. Equally horrified and amazed. As always.
“Then we can have a bunch of people shuffling along, doing the… what’s it called? The Thorazine shuffle!”
I paused in my nodding just long enough to glance at the guy across the conference table. He looked as horrified as I felt inside. I began to suspect maybe it was all a big joke and someone was going to pop out with a camera. But my boss kept going:
“And for the real kicker, we’ll have someone acting out one of those… what do you call ‘em..?”
She furrowed her brow in concentration then began repeatedly pantomiming hitting herself between the eyes, her hand curled in a fist.
“Lobotomies!” she squealed, super proud of herself. “Do you know if we still have any of those old tools? Though I guess it was really just an ice pick.”
I couldn’t keep up fast enough to answer her question before she hit me with another.
“Do we still have any strait jackets?”
This is not the first time I’ve been asked this question. Back when the Harlem Shake LINK was a thing, people kept calling to ask if they could borrow a strait jacket—like that was the sort of thing we kept lying about, next to our shackles and electroshock therapy machine.
“No,” I said, sparing her the rest of what I usually said, which was something along the lines of “we don’t use physical restraints anymore. We use trauma informed therapeutic interventions,” but surely she knows that… since she’s the director of the hospital.
“Well… we’ll just have to make one,” she said.
I can picture her logging onto Pinterest, searching “DIY Strait Jackets” while sipping a wine cooler and listening to Bruno Mars.
Not wanting to be a total buzzkill, I didn’t mention anything about how this is pretty much the opposite of de-stigmatization and only perpetuates all sorts of misconceptions and stereotypes about mental illness. Instead, I pointed out that she might have to ask permission before shutting roads down.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “I’ll see if I can get a meeting with the mayor next week. I’m sure he’ll be on board.”
Somehow or another I managed to weasel my way out of the conversation, thus relieving myself of any actual obligation or responsibility to the project (just like I do with all my work). I’m not sure where she is in the process of planning but I hope I’m able to get a spot on the float that throws little bars of Xanax and dripping needles full of Haldol.
Do you think this helps or hurts the stigma of mental illness? What would you have done? How do you respond when someone presents an absolutely terrible idea?
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