#7D4H - Guest Blogger Cameron Barney #MentalHealth

7 DRESSES 4 HEALTH: DAYS 112 - 118 ~ April 22nd - April 28th ~ 

About the Guest Blogger: Cameron Barney is a 21-year-old fresh (almost) out of college, living in Boston, and trying to blog her way through life at How to Cry in Public. She’s elated to be participating in 7 Dresses 4 Health and hopes to keep sharing her experiences, spreading awareness, and breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness.

Title: Empathy and Ignorance

Boston is a pretty liberal, open-minded city. Boston University in particular is filled with intelligent, informed individuals who make an effort to be up on social issues. The University has a top notch Anxiety Disorders center, the Behavioral Health clinic is helpful and easily accessible to students, and recently the Sexual Assault Response and Prevention Center opened on campus to aid those dealing with sexual assault and the trauma it causes.

So you can imagine my surprise when I was sitting in an upper level English class, discussing the book Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (a wonderful book that I would definitely recommend) and a girl commented on the arc of a certain character, Nyasha. 

Our professor asked the class how we felt about her after discussing her journey throughout the novel, and a girl in the front of the class promptly answered:

“I really liked her until the last chapter of the book.”

I paused in my notes and looked up, slightly confused. ThroughoutNervous Conditions, Nyasha had been a hardworking, independent character. She was spectacularly written, a realistic, relatable young woman who refuses to accept the patriarchal civilization in which she and her family live. She continues to be this woman all through to the end of the novel. The only thing that changes in the last chapter is that she suffers a mental and emotional breakdown.

“I really liked her and how much effort she put into her education, and then she just threw it away at the end! It was so disappointing.”

Hold on. You looked at a character who was anorexic and bulimic, heavily depressed and suicidal, who wasinstitutionalized after she tore apart her room and declared her intent to kill herself and saw that asthrowing away her education?

Are we kidding?

In regards to my mental health, I am in an exceptionally fortunate position. My friends, my parents, my extended family, they all know about my situation and they care. They understand and they do whatever they can to try and help. Even the people in my life who have never had to deal with mental illness in one capacity or another make an effort to educate themselves, to empathize, and to offer assistance.

In short, I’m lucky because it’s infrequent that I have to deal with callous ignorance.

I doubt that the girl in my class meant to be unfeelingtoward mental illness and anyone who deals with it. I doubt she made her comment out of malice. But I also doubt that she has ever had to experience mental illness, or that she has made anything more than the most superficialeffort to educate herself.

Mental illness is still taboo in America, and in most parts of the world. It’s so demonized that people who are suffering can go to the deepest depths of their diseases without seeking help. The people who do seek help can be denied it, by insurance, by complicated doctor’s visits and referrals. They can be ostracized by their friends, their religion, their communities – even their families.

Two of the biggest contributors tothese issues are a lack of information, and a lack of empathy.

One of the greatest things that humans are capable of is empathy. When your momis ill, you feel for her and want to help. When a friend’s marriage falls apart, you give them support, even if you’ve never had a long-term relationship yourself. When yourcolleague’s fatherdies, you send a sympathy card, maybe you even bake them something to show you’re sorry that they’re hurting. Hell, if you see a stranger crying alone on the street, it’s likely you’ve checked in to see if they’re okay.

We all practice empathy in our day-to-daylives, so why is it so difficult to put that empathy toward understanding and accepting mental illness and those who live with it?

Maybe it’s because you’ve never challenged yourself to look mental illness in the face. Proper education and information have the power to completely alter a person’s viewpoint. You don’t have to be completely knowledgeable about a subject, whether it’s related to mental health, poverty, race, gender, or any other issue.

You just have to try.

Make an effort to learn about mental health, whether you suffer from mental illness or maybe more importantly, if you don’t. You may never have given mental health a second thought! If that’s the case for you, you are lucky and I am truly happy for you. But I’m also here to tell you that that does not exclude you from having a knowledgeable and informed view of an issue that affects millions of people around the world.

Open yourself up to learning about mental health. When it becomes evident that you have problematic views, it is necessary to educate yourself. It is necessary to do better. You owe it to yourself, and to those around you to be better.

*The content posted here was previously posted at How to Cry in Public and was edited for content and relevance. 

Call to action: Do you have important information around one of our seven causes: HIV/AIDS, Mental Health, Nutrition, Heart Disease, Maternal Child Health, Cancer, Disability, that you want to share with a wider audience? Do you or a loved one currently live and/or struggle with one of these causes? Do you work in research, advocacy, prevention, treatment or care? We want to hear from YOU! Write to us today: 7dresses@artsconnectinternational.org to become a featured blog writer. Another way to get involved is to wear the color of the day in solidarity. Take a picture of yourself in the color of the day and Tweet it @ArtsConnectInt, tag us on Instagram @ArtsConnectInt, or send it to us on Facebook.   

About 7 Dresses 4 Health (7D4H): 7D4H is a year-long arts and health education campaign lead by visual artist, Marian Brown, in conjunction with Arts Connect International. The objective of the campaign is to promote inclusive community practices through adDRESSing health artistically and collaboratively. To learn more about the genesis of the project, read Marian’s New Year Blog

About this week's look & location: All of the dresses for 7 Dresses 4 Health were designed and sewn by Kim's Fashion Design. Love the look? Visit Kim at 100 Huntington Ave, Boston MA 02116, call her at (617) 267-9299 or email her: info@kimsfashion.com. Mention 7 Dresses 4 Health for a special discount! 

Campaign Update (2017): All 7 Dresses 4 Health blogs were migrated from a former site, so the sharing analytics are inconsistent from when they were first published. We apologize to our guest bloggers, and readers, for this inconvenience. That said, the campaign garnered an average of 5K hits per blog, over 500,000 readers throughout 2015! Additionally, the average number of shares per guest blog was over 150x on social media (through Facebook and Twitter). Thank you for making this incredible campaign possible - and for all that it was for so many. With gratitude, Marian & the ACI Team