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Awareness Awareness

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There is a walk, run, dance, bracelet, and color to raise awareness for just about any and everything. Diseases, syndromes, and situations have their own ribbons, websites and events. “Awareness” is the word. Though to be excruciatingly precise it’s not the best word to use. There are very few of us who are not “aware” of cancer, domestic violence, suicide, autoimmune diseases, etc. A more apt word would probably be “Attention”. The goal of these public relations campaigns is to draw attention to the subject matter. Often it is the case that where there is attention paid money follows. And that is good.

What all this attention has created of course is a culture of extroversion that might not be reflective of the culture at large. People who perhaps feel inclined to experience their illness, hardship or loss in relative privacy can feel pressured to come out. There is almost a forced gaiety surrounding some illnesses. Female reproductive cancers are assigned a color and a cloak of sisterhood that can feel demanding to an introvert. Of course even forced gaiety is better than the quiet shame of yesteryear. With the pink feather boas comes an abundance of information and support.

It’s not clear if any awareness has an impact on the individual. Do people seek detection and treatment at a significantly higher rate now? Does any of that result in longer healthier lives? I don’t know. When a newsreader has a screening on national television does it change the disease statistics? Certainly when a colonoscopy is broadcast it makes an impact on the national discussion. And that is good. Does being pressured (by producers) to have a mammogram on air change anything? Are there any women who need to be told what a mammogram is? Does anyone still discuss breast cancer in hushed tones? And when that broadcasted mammogram results in a woman’s worst fear, does it help or hurt? (For the record; has there ever been a man being tested for anything on air?) That the newsreader’s life has most likely been prolonged is a wonderful thing. But does it have a significant impact on the people who witness it?

Eradicating shame and fear is always a worthwhile pursuit. There are many diseases, particularly those of the mind, which could use some bracelet wearing awareness. Expanding our understanding of the personal challenges around us increases our humanity. However part of that understanding should be an appreciation that not everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, let alone for their colon. And not everyone wants to wear pink and belong to a disease sorority. Extroversion (or attention/awareness) is no more laudable than introversion. Being ill, or surviving a loved one’s suicide or any other personal horror is just that: personal. In a world of walkathons and editorial confessions, shouting may feel like the only means to support or care. Somewhere between the shame and secrecy of the past and the exhibitionism of the present is a place for everyone.

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Posted by on November 12, 2013 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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Protecting Those Who Serve

 

Congress is poised to enact legislation to make it legal for military mental health counselors (and commanders) to discuss personal firearms with soldiers considered at risk for suicide. That’s right, it is currently¬†illegal to discuss ownership (and any use of) personal firearms with soldiers identified as potentially suicidal. 6 out of 10 military suicides are by firearm (similar to the rate of non-military suicides.) Now before we all collectively smack ourselves on the forehead and exclaim a universal; “Duh” let’s think this through.

The military is acknowledging that there are mental health issues that need to be addressed. The Pentagon and Congress are willing to even consider wading into “don’t you come near my gun” political territory. The military culture is showing signs it is willing to change. Culture is not easy to change. A culture whose very existence is based on rules, regulations, defense, solidarity, and yes; firearms, is showing some flexibility. They seem to be willing to admit that there is a problem that needs to be addressed holistically.

At first blush discussing (personal) gun ownership with someone who may be a danger to him/herself seems rather straightforward. No one is confiscating the gun(s) or demanding they be relinquished (perhaps that will come with time.) The potentially lifesaving measure being considered by Congress is merely a conversation about guns. But this is the military we’re talking about. There are people who consider personal gun ownership to be a very important part of who they are and of their patriotism. Knowing that the subject may not be private could have an effect on a soldier’s willingness to discuss mental health issues. Living in a closed environment (a military base) one might guard his/her privacy. Living on a base (with a gun store!) surrounded by people openly carrying guns, it could feel very stigmatizing to have your gun ownership questioned.

All of this is not to suggest that there should ever be any gag rules around mental health and safety. But it is worth noting that military+mental health+right to bear arms= a minefield. Any move towards open and direct conversation about military mental health and safety should be encouraged. Could this step (of removing the speech restraint) be the first of many necessary steps? Will soldiers identified as being at risk have all firearms confiscated? Could we someday live in a world in which people with mental illness do not have access to guns? Why not? Think of all the changes in safety and in illness awareness in just the last thirty years. Seat belt use was once optional (if they existed at all,) the words “breast cancer” were whispered (if uttered at all,) the intellectually and physically challenged were definitely not mainstreamed, and many people with mental illness suffered in silence. As a culture we’ve demonstrated we are capable of change. If an organization defined by tradition and rigidity can take this first step, just think what the rest of us could do!

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2012 in Cultural Critique, Well-Being

 

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