Jun 14, 2019
I had a dear friend who suffered her entire adult life with depression. She received medication for her depression, but she resisted taking it. She believed that, if she was a stronger person, she would not need this medication. Because of this belief, she suffered much more than she might have if she had understood that her depression was a medical condition, and that treating this illness was similar to treating a physical malady. She should not have felt shame in needing medical assistance.
Right or wrong—she felt the shame and suffered because of it.
The Cape Ann branch of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI Cape Ann) defines mental illness as “a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.”
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” The circumstance of mental illness has stigmatized people for a long time—maybe since the beginning of time. Long ago, this could almost be understandable. Mental illness was not understood and could be frightening to behold. Explanations conceived by medical and religious leaders of the time often created a belief that it was not safe to be around a person suffering with a mental illness.
Now, we know better. Or, we should.
A report from the National Institute of Mental Health reported that western society stigmatizes mental illness more than non-western societies. That doesn’t mean that there is no stigma in Africa or Asia, but it is seen much less. In western society, there is a strong disapproval of mental illness, many people comparing it to drug addiction, prostitution, and criminality. The report concluded “Stigma is evident in the way laws, social services, and the justice system are structured as well as ways in which resources are allocated. Research that focuses on the social structures that maintain stigma and strategies for changing them is sorely needed.”
Cape Ann Artist Amy Kerr created the amazing “I Am More” project in 2017. The exhibit is an art and writing project that reminds us that we are more than our mental challenges. It includes sixteen pastel and colored pencil portraits of Cape Ann residents, along with an essay written by each subject “I Am More” has been on display at various locations throughout Cape Ann over the past several months, including the Rockport Police Department, The Open Door, Gloucester City Hall, Addison Gilbert Hospital, Action Inc., Gloucester Stage Company and more. The “I Am More” project was so well received that Ms. Kerr has produced a second portrait series, “I Am More: Massachusetts.” The second project will have an opening exhibit this fall.
SeniorCare Inc. is proud to host the “I Am More” art exhibit at the agency’s Gloucester offices. There will be a public reception on Wednesday, June 26, 2019 from 5:00 pm to 7:00 pm at SeniorCare, located at 49 Blackburn Center, Gloucester. In addition to the reception, public viewing hours are available on Friday afternoons through June from 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm.
For more information about the “I Am More” portrait series, please visit www.amykerrdraws.org.
For more information about mental illness or for support in understanding what a friend or loved one might be experiencing, contact NAMI Cape Ann at 978-281-1557 or visit their website at namicapeann.org.