Thursday, May 31, 2007

If You Meet the Buddha on the Road...

For centuries people with mental illness were kept away from the rest of society, sometimes locked up, often in poor conditions, with little or no say in running their lives. Today, negative attitudes lock them out of society more subtly but just as effectively. ~ The Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK)

Back in April, prior to Bellsouth (now the New AT&T) temporarily terminating my Internet connection, I mentioned that May is Mental Health Month. I also said I would write a blog in honor of it. Since today is the last day of May, Alex reminded me that if I don’t post this now, I’ll not have kept word.

Through the past thirty or so years I have learned quite a bit about mental health in the United States. That came not only from being a practicing social worker, pastor and therapist, but also from my own bouts with melancholia. While researching this post, I came upon several sites dealing with the stigma placed on folks with mental illness (see links below).

And that reminded me of a book I read when I was a novice social worker: If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him by psychiatrist Sheldon Kopp. (NOTE: You may want to glance at Killing the Buddha for an explanation of the book’s title).

Subtitled The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients, Kopp’s book taught me quite a bit about how society views those who are mentally ill, especially about the labels both professional and lay folk seem to place on people—usually with antagonistic results.

As an example, I want to share one of the stories Kopp told in If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him. Since I no longer have the book, I shall tell the story from memory, which means, of course, that it may vary a bit from the original.

One day the police brought a man to a mental health ward and told the staff that the man had been found standing on a city street corner wearing a long robe, sandals, and muttering gibberish. The mental health staff agreed with the police that the man must be crazy and began legal action to have him involuntarily admitted to the ward.

A few hours later that petition for involuntary admission was canceled when thirty people, all wearing long robes and sandals and muttering gibberish arrived at the hospital seeking their comrade.

As Kopp pointed out, one person wearing a long robe and sandals and muttering gibberish can be considered to be crazy; however, thirty-one such folks can be considered to be a religious community. It usually depends upon our perspective.

On this last day of Mental Health Month 2007, I invite you to explore one or two of the links below, each of which deals with the stigma placed on people who have been designated by someone as being mentally ill:

BBC Radio: Mental Health Prejudice

Prejudice the greatest obstacle to mental health

Mental Help Net

Internet Mental Health (includes self-diagnosis)

BBC: Mental Health

National Mental Health Awareness Campaign

Stigma & Mental Health Issues

Blog: Psych Central: Mental Health Stigma Alive and Well in Virginia

CNN: Mental illness and stigma: Coping with the ridicule

Mind: Mental Illness is Like Any Other Sickness

Mind: Myths about Mental Illness still Prevail

Mind: Tear Down the Stigma of Mental Illness

National Alliance on Mental Illness: What is Mental Illness: Mental Illness Facts

Scapegoating And Mental Illness Stigma

Mayo Clinic: Mental health and stigma: Overcoming the ridicule

Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General

Addressing mental-illness stigma bluntly

National Mental Health Information Center

The guru, if he is gifted, reads the story as any bilingual person might. He does not translate—he understands. ~ Sheldon Kopp


  1. Agree Nick. The stigma is everywhere--physical sickness evokes sympathy and care, but mental illness doesn't. Maybe we're too fearful of the mentally ill.

  2. A well timed post. There is depression in my fact my cousin (whom I regarded as a sister) and her mother, my aunt, both committed suicide while in a depressive phase.

    I have a brother who has bipolar disorder, a great-aunt also had this depressive illnes.

    I've had my brushes with it, but thankfully, I am not as tortured as those poor souls.

    Take care, dear Nick and give Alex a big cuddle for me.

  3. People often judge before they know the whole story... tis sad really.

  4. One of the examples I use in class about media representation is people with mental health issues. In the media, they are generally portrayed as troubled criminals, or people who can't function and are confined to wards. And yet, there are millions suffering from mental health problems who do not fall in these categories.


  5. I suffered for years with depression because I didn't really know what it was. I thought depression was something fictional, a Woody Allen joke; bored rich women complaining about their mothers.

    So I've been very open in sharing my experiences with depression and its treatment.

    I lost years of my life to this problem needlessly. Hopefully I can spare someone else the things I went through.

  6. good thing alex is watching your diary!

    thanks for the post.

  7. Well said. Excellent links.

  8. When I came here I had no idea what to expect, I think something about killing Buddha. What you have written is really good. So are the links you supplied. Thank you.