2012 Mental Health Hero Cartoon-A-Thon
Drawing done by Chato Stewart
Being a Mental Health hero is my life’s mission. Although it was over thirty years ago, I clearly remember feeling scared and confused as my great-grandmother Helen warned me about the Beast Nymph, a leprechaun-sized evil trickster who taunted her into performing misdeeds and often tried to poison her food. To me as a child, Helen’s stories about the Beast Nymph were both bizarre and entertaining, like a Grimm’s fairytale she had made up for my amusement. As I grew older, I saw that her daughter, my grandmother, had a different reaction. For my grandmother, Helen’s ramblings were constant reminders of a painful childhood filled with shame and embarrassment.
When Helen died, I remember my grandmother confiding in me the relief she felt to finally be free, and the guilt she felt for feeling that relief. Her solace was short- lived, for only a few years later, her son, my uncle—a late in life baby less than a year my senior—began telling us that Ozzy Osbourne was communicating with him through the radio and that John Lennon, not my grandfather, was his real dad. Watching people I love struggle with the stigma, shame and isolation that Mental illness brings led me to a career in human services. I began working at a residential school in my town. More than half of the young residents had been physically, emotionally and sexually abused. What kind of a society would tolerate this? I noticed the stigma the children endured. When we took trips into the community, many people didn’t bother to hide their fear and disgust.
This intolerance of people I loved was a source of hurt and anger. I don’t want my child and other children to inherit a world where people most in need of kindness and connection are met with violence, hatred and marginalization. I currently teach at Worcester State University, in central Massachusetts, in the Community Health Department. In my Mental Health class, there are always students who have suffered through racism, poverty, abuse, addiction, eating disorders, self hatred, and the feeling that they have to hide some aspect of who they are. When they see that they are not alone, and these labels are socially constructed, and that mental illness is a treatable condition, they want a part in dismantling this oppression.
They typically select projects designed to educate the public about mental illness, recognizing that accurate information is the best weapon against stigma. By raising their awareness of the damage of oppression, I am helping to create agents of social change. They also learn, as I have, that when you work to help others, you help yourself too. We all need to give and get help. These ripples of hope, acceptance and understanding create the mental health heroes and sheroes of tomorrow and make the world a better place for us all! The kind of world where abuse and marginalization is not endured and everyone is accepted and supported.
Friend me on Facebook @chato B Stewart.
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Bonus My kids Drawings