Mental illness is a ‘Hot Stove’

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Nisha Gandhi

Mental illness is often considered “taboo” in our society. More often than not, talking about psychological problems is considered “weird” and something to avoid. Last Wednesday, Pi Beta Phi and the Psychology Club came together to tackle the stigma against mental illness.

For the first 30 minutes of the event, the groups showed “How to Touch a Hot Stove,” a documentary explaining the negative meaning attached to the term “mental illness,” why it’s so important to break this tendency and how we, as a society, can go about doing this.

Many students attended the screening in the Mount Carmel Auditorium.

“This was a well put on presentation that open my eyes to a mental awareness movement that I wasn’t aware of,” Sara McWaters, a 3 + 3 physical therapy major, said.

According to the documentary, the word “stigma” was originally used to signify a mark burned onto a criminal or someone similar in order to differentiate them from the rest of the world. Examples given were Hester Prynne’s “A” in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel “The Scarlet Letter” or the gold stars worn by Jews during Nazi Germany.

Sophomore psychology and criminal justice major Danielle Farrell said the event was eye-opening.

“It was only a short film but it made a big impact on everyone who was present to see it,” Farrell said.

The documentary emphasizes the perceived shame of mental illness has been made public, but was previously hidden and discussed less. It claims that the media plays a role in establishing this pattern, which ultimately makes those who have a mental illness feel isolated and misunderstood. The stigma has also made it difficult to gain acceptance among peers and realize that their illnesses don’t define them.

Farrell said even though mental illness is a sensitive subject, it needs to be talked about.

“No progress happens without first opening the door for communication,” Farrell said. “When people don’t understand something, they have a tendency to fear it and consequently avoid it.”

“How to Touch a Hot Stove” shares some ideas about how to change society’s perception of mental illness. To start, they say that it is important for those with these diagnoses to have a support system and maintain relationships.

For example, one man in the film said that something that helped him the most was continuing to go to school so he could see his friends and still feel like he had something going for him.

In addition to this, the documentary argued that the easiest way to avoid shaming those with mental illnesses is to educate children about the disorders at a young age. By doing this, these children would grow up more knowledgeable and therefore accepting of those with mental illnesses, looking at them as they are just another person in society as opposed to an alien.

Farrell said if people educate kids at a young age about what it means to be classified with a mental disorder, then they can become a more accepting and understanding generation.

The second half of the presentation was a discussion lead by Penny Leisring, a psychology professor at Quinnipiac. Leisring specializes in abnormal psychology and says she has a true passion for exploring mental illnesses and their effects on society.

McWaters said she thought Leisring did a good job at facilitating the discussion, she made listeners really think about what was said in the video.

In order to emphasize all the points brought up by the documentary, Leisring prompted the audience with questions about what they found most interesting about the documentary, new information we’d learned and various observations we’ve all made in our society overall.

“We must look at the person as the individual,” McWaters said. “Their diseases don’t define who they are. Every person has his or her own individual struggle and we aren’t here to judge him or her, we are here to help him or her.”