Monthly Archives: January 2014

Saint Prozac

I found an altar at the Albuquerque airport. It might be blasphemy to call a merchandise display at a gift store an altar, but what it contained was holy to me. There, hiding (out of shame?) among all the saints on a string was Saint Dymphna.

The icon description on the back says, “Saint Dymphna: Patron Saint of Mental Illness” and offers this prayer:

“Please intercede for me at the throne of divine mercy for help. May I know courage in this hour of need and find my way out of suffering.”

She is seated in a golden field holding a blooming white iris, dark hair framing her Mona Lisa-like face.

I purchased a pocket size icon of St. Dymphna. She is made of wood and feels smooth to the touch. Just knowing she exists comforts me.

How had I not know about this St. Prozac?

While talking with my brother over a lunch of pad thai noodles he shared his hopes for 2014.

He wishes he could be proud of his mental health.

He wishes he had pride enough to wear a T-shirt and march in a parade with others living with bi-polar.

Instead of feeling ashamed of his mental health, he wants to be proud.

I get that. It’s so isolating and depressing to feel like you are the only one.

St. Prozac…St. Dymphna…Patron Saint of Mental Health, help us all to be proud of who we are, proud enough to come out of hiding, proud enough to break the silence, proud enough to end the stigma.

I could get behind a t-shirt with St. Dymphna on it. Now, who wants to march in a parade?

THE mentally ill

I know nice guys named Ned and Brad, so forgive me if this idea stinks.

But I’ve been wondering about using household names like NeD (Neurological Disease) or BraD (Brain Disease) instead of the loaded and long name Mental Illness.

Thanks to my friend Brad Lyons who shared with me this article that challenges all of us to renounce the term “the mentally ill.”

The article reminds us that it’s disrespectful and limiting to define anybody by a single characteristic.

Some examples: It’s better to say “people living in poverty” rather than “the poor” or “the LGBT community” rather than “the gays.”

This is known as “people first” language; it makes sense and honors the full humanity of a person.

Some people and organizations have made the switch from using mental “illness” language to mental “health” (Mental Illness Network became Mental Health Network).

Yet others, like major player NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) have stuck with the “illness” language.


Why do people get stuck with the stigmatized label “mentally ill”?

Since, according to NAMI, 1 in 4 adults experiences mental health challenges, then we are talking about something so common that it should be a household name.

So why not NeD or BraD?

Mental illness is a disease of the brain, so why not call it what it is…a neurological disease or a brain disease?

We say heart disease, we don’t say blood illness…that sounds pre-Enlightenment, like we are still performing blood letting or lobotomies.

When referring to a person’s mental health status, it sounds more evolved to say “she’s got a NeD or a BraD” rather than, “she’s mentally ill.”

This new language might take awhile to catch on.

Myself, I prefer BraD to NeD (and it has nothing to do with Brad Pitt or Brad Lyons).

Using person first language and dropping “illness,” replacing it with “health,” are two good places to start.

What other alternatives to “mental illness” language have you seen or want to try out?