Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Personal encounters with untreated mental illness, stigma & YouTube

A key and understandable focus of many mental health organizations is fighting stigma. Educating, and sometimes chastising, journalists who propagate derogatory stereotypes is a common way to try and prevent the most severe manifestations of mental illnesses from being associated with all who have them.

Yet would stigma be eliminated if advocates were given the final say on every article, movie and TV Show? Hardly. Opinion is forged through personal experience.

People who have overcome mental illnesses don’t wear tags marked “I have Bipolar Disorder” or “successfully dealing with Schizophrenia.” Many of those in the grips of the untreated symptoms of such illnesses make their conditions distinctly apparent. An encounter with someone in the midst of a psychotic episode can shape an individual’s opinion about mental illness for life. E-mails, phone calls, and media education can’t prevent such encounters – only treatment can.

Nafiza Ziyad is “an ambitious, bright and happy person.” She also has bipolar disorder, but “thinks she can do without the medicine.” A manic episode recently led to Ziyad angrily, confusingly confronting an elderly woman on an Atlanta train and to becoming the face of mental illness for most of the other passengers.

As it happens, Ziyad’s behavior also provided an “education” for many others. It was recorded and posted on YouTube. The video is entitled “Crazy Girl on Train.”

Currently, 847,638 people have viewed the sad incident and 10,274 have posted written comments concerning it. Should you wish to watch the video of this sad episode, please be aware that it contains a great deal of profanity.

And does this create stigma?...below are a sample of comments from the YouTube posters (profanity has been excised).

“Oh my God...what a horrible person.”

“That was scary”

“what a nutcase.”

“She needed to be popped in the mouth.”

“some forgot to take her meds..”

“i'd hit her in the middle of the face with a baseball bat if i was just sitting there in the train going home or anything. i'm pretty sure i would have support”

“Yall can't see that this girl is mentally insane.”

“shes disturbeddd”

“If i had been on the train i would have ------ kicked her in the face.”

“that chick needs to be medicated.”


“Somebody call the doctor. This girl is obviously not healthy in the head”

“Definitely psychotic”

“Schizophrenia is a terrible illness of the mind. She needs meds STAT! Or she needs to up her dosage.”

“This girl is having a psychotic episode. Somebody should have called the doctors in white coats to take her to the nearest state mental hospital.”

“...wow...get this b---- a straight jacket...”