Mental Illness: It’s not a Scarlet Letter Anymore



By Ali Mariani

“For eight years I was an inmate in a state asylum for the insane. During those years I passed through such unbearable terror that I deteriorated into a wild, frightened creature intent only on survival. And I survived. I was raped by orderlies, gnawed on by rats and poisoned by tainted food. I was chained in padded cells, strapped into strait-jackets and half-drowned in ice baths. And I survived. The asylum itself was a steel trap, and I was not released from its jaws alive and victorious. I crawled out mutilated, whimpering and terribly alone. But I did survive. “—Frances Farmer, An American actress and television host.


Asylums, institutions, locked facilities, sanitariums…just a few of the places where the mentally ill were cast off to not so long ago. It wasn’t a pretty picture. The quote above describes some of the horrific traumas that went on in asylums in the early 19th century. The mentally ill were treated sub-human. They were sent away and often forgotten about, like black sheep, points of shame in the family, the town, and society as a whole.


Not only were the facilities isolated and set away, they were also less-than hygienic and rampant with all kinds of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse (read: Nurse Ratchet from One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest). The mentally ill were not treated with respect, to say the least. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) was very popular, but unmonitored, it left people with devastating losses of memory and brain cells. Mentally ill individuals were treated like animals, experimented on, and left to wither away in their wards.


Mental illness was not something that people talked about openly. Mental illness was a Scarlet Letter on the forehead, something that stamped you, shamed you, and left you with limited opportunities in life.


We no longer live in a time where the mentally ill are hushed and forgotten.


We live in a time where the mentally ill speak up. Moreover, we live in a time where recovery from mental illness is celebrated openly: no more silence!


Here is a list of a few celebrities who have spoken up about their mental illnesses:


Robert Downey Junior—Recovering addict

Demi Levato- Bipolar Disorder

Kristen Bell- Depression

Catherine Zeta-Jones- Bipolar Disorder

JK Rowling- Depression

Russel Brand- Recovering addict

Angelina Jolie- Former cutter

Hayden Panettiere- Post-partum Depression

Lena Dunham- Anxiety, OCD, and Depression

Owen Wilson- Depression

Jon Hamm- Depression

Mel Gibson- Recovering alcoholic

Jamie Lee Curtis- Recovering alcoholic

Elton John- Recovering addict/alcoholic

Eminem- Recovering addict

Steven Tyler- Recovering addict

Stephen King- Recovering alcoholic


And the list goes on and on. Just do a google search and you will see for yourself the number of celebrities who have struggled with mental illnesses.


There are a multitude of positive things that happen when people speak up about their struggles with mental illness. One of them being: other people suffering silently are given an ounce of courage to speak up about their struggles, maybe even enough courage to ask for help.


And if you speaking up gives one other person enough courage to ask for help, then you’ve done more than enough.

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