New Voice for Mental Health

Greetings and welcome to Tiffanie Chai, a new contributor to the Ithaca Voice, whose bi-weekly column “Within the Bell Jar,” discusses mental health, mental illness, and disabilities. She gives us a taste of what’s to come in her first piece this week, promising “a fresh take on mental health.”

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Tiffanie Chai (credit: Ithaca Voice)

Chai is wary of reliance on top-down approaches to mental health, arguing that initiatives by institutions to “raise mental health awareness” largely do so in a way that is attractive to their audiences and end up failing to combat structural stigma. So Chai is a breed of mental health advocate who fights the stigma by empowering people experiencing mental health struggles to tell their stories and to thus educate the rest of us.

An excerpt from Chai’s first column:

I do understand why the intricacies of mental illness can be difficult to comprehend for individuals who aren’t familiar with these issues. We are so used to equating disease with physically observable symptoms that the idea of certain disorders exhibiting themselves as behavioral changes can be hard to digest. However, most people will never feel comfortable bringing up their mental health issues regardless of how many times they’re told that “it’s time to talk about mental health.”

I want to paint the painfully raw stories possessed by people who are mentally ill as realistically as possible—the ones kept from the public eye because they’d make others feel uncomfortable. Good. I want you to be. It means you’re learning. As my twin flame Sylvia Plath once wrote, “To the person in the bell jar, blank and stopped as a dead baby, the world itself is a bad dream.”