On Healing 2/7/2005: Shock jock restigmatizes depression

Shock jocks are not paid to think; they are paid to shock. Craig Carton of New Jersey 101.5 was doing his job when he made some thoughtless comments about Mary Jo Codey, wife of acting Gov. Richard Codey.

Mary Jo Codey has a history of severe postpartum depression. She and her husband have been open about her condition in an effort to heighten awareness of this debilitating illness.

At the time of her illness, Mrs. Codey reported she had thoughts of putting her baby in the microwave. Carton figured this would be a good opportunity to legalize marijuana: “These women should have a joint and relax instead of putting their babies in a microwave.”

This kind of small-minded prejudice might attract listeners to the radio, but it can do more harm than Carton probably realizes.

He might not know about a recent Surgeon General’s report, which said that 20 percent of the U.S. population has a diagnosable mental illness.

If one counts the person’s friends, family and coworkers, that means most of the country is affected by mental illness.

And despite these staggering numbers, it’s somehow still OK to make fun of mental illness.

A stigma like this is generally a byproduct of ignorance, which dissipates once we learn more about the condition. Fifty years ago, cancer was stigmatized because people thought it might be contagious. In this case, knowledge diminished stigma.

But when it comes to mental illness, stigma persists despite some great strides. We know that most mental illness is a brain disorder and often genetically based. We know that it is not about weakness or poor choices. And we know that most forms of mental illness are treatable and have a good prognosis. Nevertheless, nearly two-thirds of people with mental illness fail to get treatment.

That’s because there are too many like Carton who think it’s OK to be prejudiced. And it’s not just shock jocks. I am not aware of any health insurance that pays equally for physical and mental health.

Government should also share the blame. Its policies result in too few treatment spaces for needy people.

And because discrimination is so widespread, mental illness carries great shame. Many don’t even seek treatment for fear of being “discovered.”

Imagine living in a world where people are afraid of you, don’t want to live near you, and don’t even care to know who you are. In that world, it is more difficult to find a job or an apartment. Self-esteem, already hammered by the mental illness is brought lower by isolation. Stigma robs human dignity.

People like Carton don’t understand how much people with mental illness suffer; how those with eating disorders or substance abuse struggle with their demons every hour; how those with depression or bipolar disorder have to muster incredible emotional courage just to function. When one loses control of one’s mind, the effect is unfathomable.

I experienced clinical depression for about two years. That period was more painful than 25 years of quadriplegia. And this doesn’t count the suffering of other people in my life.

The only thing that will help diminish stigma is understanding and respect. We must understand that mental illness is a disorder of the brain and not the soul.

But a small-minded shock jock wouldn’t understand that. Maybe that’s why the Codey responded by threatening to take Carton “outside.”

I’m sure Codey knows that would not stop the prejudice, and would probably make it worse. And I am sure Codey understands that such a beating would probably help Carton’s career and probably destroy his own. But despite that, if the acting governor decides to take him outside anyway, I’ll hold his jacket and take him out to dinner when he’s done.

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.