S101, Spring Semester 2015 – #stigmasucks: The Interplay of Mental Illness, Media, and Social Change

S101, Spring Semester 2015

#stigmasucks: The Interplay of Mental Illness, Media, and Social Change

Individuals diagnosed with mental illness have been documented to have a shortened life expectancy of about 10 years compared to other Americans. And, we know only 20% of those in need of treatment actually get into care. Why is this? One answer, of course, is the nature of this health problem itself. However, there is a good deal of evidence to suggest that the shame, secrecy, prejudice, and discrimination that surround mental illness in American society are also at fault. In fact, according to the Surgeon General of the United States, stigma is the single biggest obstacle facing individuals, their families, and even research and treatment resources. This course takes on the issue of stigma surrounding mental illness from theoretical, research, and policy perspectives. We will examine the nature of mental illness: whether it is a myth, whether it has increased in the U.S., and how individuals, medical systems, and societies have responded to this problem. We will also examine the lives of people with mental illness, their pathways to care, and what happens after treatment.

In this course, we will provide you with a unique sociological lens with which to view the connection of mental illness to science, medicine, the media, and social life. While sociology has a rich history of conceptualizing and researching stigma, we will also bring in insights from IU faculty with expertise on the brain, on communications, film, and marketing. This will provide a solid scientific foundation to help create materials for a real world campaign designed to eradicate the stigma associated with mental illness. The College Toolbox Project (CTP), an on-going effort in which IU is serving as the national pilot site, is designed to make college campuses more open to talking about the challenges of mental health in college life and in the community. This offers you, as IU students, a unique opportunity to see your efforts translated into actual programming and policy aimed at your generation and at all U.S. colleges. In cooperation with Glenn Close’s Bring Change 2 Mind (BC2M) organization, students in this course will develop campaign materials. Materials will be assessed not only by the instructors, but by Ms. Close and the Executive Director of BC2M as part of an academic competition with the potential for national recognition and rewards. While taking this course is not required for the academic competition (which will be announced in November), it offers a mentored substantive platform to inform and inspire this effort.