Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Decibels Rising

More and more people are finding a way to talk about their experiences with mental illness. It is nothing short of a historic shift, and it’s happening locally and globally. Speaking up also requires listening more carefully; otherwise, as the expression goes, the message will fall on deaf ears. Previously, our voice around mental health barely exceeded 0 decibels (dB), the weakest sound that humans can hear. While we still are far from 194 dB, the loudest sound possible (and probably too loud since such noise causes hearing loss!), we are making serious progress. More people with stronger voices are speaking out.

Here are some places to look (make sure you listen!):

1. Young People are Talking and Teachers are Listening. When I was in high school, no one talked about mental illness. Classmates disappeared from school for reasons unspoken; when they returned, if they returned, it was as if everyone were dancing with two left feet. Fast forward to this past week. My daughter, Julia, a high school senior, presented a curriculum she developed for her senior project on mental health and illness. Teachers, classmates, family and friends listened, spoke of their own experiences and applauded when they learned that the curriculum would be integrated into the unit on brain sciece in 9th grade biology class in future years. Kudos to Julia and Riverdale Country School!

2. “I’m over staying silent about my depression.” Kristen Bell, actress best known for Frozen, House of Lies and Veronica Mars, said this week. She reminds us that despite her public success, she has suffered from depression. “For me depression is not sadness. It’s not having a bad day and needing a hug. It [was] a complete and utter sense of isolation and loneliness. Its debilitation was all-consuming, and it shut down my mental circuit board.” She had a parent who encouraged her to seek care, she got help, and she is a living example of the health and recovery that can come if we end the stigma, reduce the isolation, and pursue treatment.

3. Project Semi-Colon was founded by Amy Bleuel who has suffered from depression and whose father committed suicide when she was 18 years old. Authors use a semicolon when “they could’ve ended a sentence but chose not to.” Bleuel’s site is designed to encourage individuals not to give up or give in to the despair that can come when living with mental illness. With Project Sem-Colon, people are encouraged to continue living and telling their stories through writing.

4. This is my Brave is a stage show developed by Jennifer Marshall that is touring the US this spring in which cast members tell their personal stories of mental illness. For many, it is the first time they speak aloud about their experiences. For many in the audience, the brave storytellers on stage are the inspiration to find their own voice.

5. Okay to Say is a grassroots movement that aims to reduce isolation and stigma and promote greater understanding about mental illness by providing a platform for individuals to talk openly and share their stories about experience with mental health concerns. Okay to Say is working to expand conversations on mental health, creating a voice through social media.

Picture of Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD

Kathleen M. Pike, PhD is Professor of Psychology and Director of the Global Mental Health WHO Collaborating Centre at Columbia University.

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