On February 5, 2011, NBC Sports blogger Rick Chandler made a bad call with the following article: You crazy! Mental health advocates in uproar over high school dance teams’ “psych ward” routine. Many mental health advocates, led by blogger Amy K. in her February 8, 2011 blog post titled, Mocking Mental Health Advocacy: Take Action Now!, are calling for a retraction by Chandler, who also uses the Twitter handle, @rickchand.
While Chandler should know better than to support the weird dance performed by the Waunakee, WI dance team, what is most surprising is that, according to Chandler’s post, the dance coach claims that although the dancers were dressed in uniforms intended to resemble straitjackets with the words “Psych Ward” clearly visible on the front of each girl’s uniform, they didn’t “intend to offend anyone or make any reference to mental illness.” REALLY?!
While I cannot imagine that anyone actually tried to offend people suffering with mental health conditions, any reasonable person should have been able to anticipate that the dance routine would be offensive and perpetuate the stigma that goes along with mental health disorders.
This isn’t just about being “politically correct” though. It is about combating a stigma that has persisted in western society for many years. It is about being sensitive to the fact that 20% of Americans suffer with mental illness. It is about the reality that there is nothing funny or exciting about wearing a strait jacket, and most of all, it is about the kids who suffer silently and go untreated, often committing suicide because of the stigma surrounding MI.
My Twitter friend, @Chrisa_Hickey, who also writes a blog called The Mindstorm: Raising a Mentally Ill Child was among the first to address the topic on February 5. On February 6, 2011, she featured a guest post on her blog by an amazing 15 year-old girl named Erika. If you haven’t read Erika’s heartfelt letter to “the coach,” you should. Erika relates her own struggle with mental illness, including visits to the “psych ward,” and addresses how damaging this performance may be to teens struggling with mental illness who may fail to seek treatment because of the stigma surrounding mental illness. It must here be noted that most children and adolescents who struggle with mental health disorders go undiagnosed and untreated. Is it any wonder why when society freely and openly mocks mental illness?
Kudos to Erika, Chrisa, Amy and all the others out there who are taking a stand against this outrage. Won’t you please join us in fighting the stigma associated with mental illness –Tell NBC they are WRONG! See vlog from @abeeliever http://ow.ly/3Uo2C and take action NOW!
UPDATE 4:00PM, 2/11/2011: Some good news has come out of this situation today. The principal of Waunakee High School, Brian Kersten, is working with NAMI Wisconsin to create awareness of mental illness in the school. Kudos for doing the right thing Mr. Kersten! Now, we’d just like to see the same from NBC! Read more at The Mindstorm, Chrisa’s blog.