Bell, Let’s Talk, Mental Health – Part I

Go To – Bell Let’s Talk: Part II – The Internet, Part III – Internet of Things (IoT), Part IV- Privacy

The telephone.

What a wonderful communication device that prior to its invention, I haven’t a clue how people would communicate with each other, especially long distance.  Back in the day one would tie a note to a birds leg and it was taught where to fly to deliver its message, natives (and others) would use smoke signaled messages, at one time a king would dispatch one of his couriers with a sealed note and he’d gallop away to the receiver which could take all of an hour, a half a day, two days, a week – who knows maybe he’d even have to board a ship to go cross continents to deliver his message – two cans to speak into tied together with a string.  But all that changed with this wonderful device that Alexander Graham Bell perfected, patented and provided to the community.  All of sudden people are talking, I mean in real time – actually talking to each other. Magnificent!

From its first introduction into the consumer market the telephone has morphed in a variety ways connecting people all over the globe.  It provided a new means for us to communicate, to talk to each other, to hear their voices including the unsaid words that don’t appear between the lines of a letter. The telephone brought humans closer together and if you take a step back to view its overall development and its contribution to humanity, I’d say that is pretty fantastic.  But we human beings are curious. We can’t just leave things alone we always have to fiddle with it in the quest for improvement and for the most part, when we do, most of the time there is a rewards benefit for the betterment of the community and to humanity.  In the case of the telephone a whole industry burst on to the scene; we call it “tele-communications”.  All of a sudden we no longer need to have a telephone line per say –instead we haves towers, that receive voice signals that bounce from tower to tower to deliver our call to the intended device enabling real time talking at half the cost of line delivery and handling twice the volume of delivering calls. We have walkie –talkies, pagers, cell phones, text messages, and satellite signals delivering our messages even into outer space! Now that’s a lot of talking!

Alexander Graham Bell (Source: The Guardian)

But for all of the “talking” that we do, to some, no one seems to be listening anymore.  And I guess that’s why Bell decided to launch their “Bell Let’s Talk Mental Health” campaign.  I suspect with its campaign Bell is highlighting that this device – the telephone – that their founding father provided to humanity was not only invented for us to talk to each other or even at each other.  It’s reminding us that we also have to listen to each other.  Did you know Alexander Graham Bell’s grandfather and brother both had been involved with the study of elocution and both his mother and wife were deaf? Elocution is the study of formal speaking in pronunciation, grammar, style, and tone which reminds me to get a little more serious about my Toast Master education through membership. According to Wikipedia, Bell considered his invention an intrusion on his real work as a scientist and refused to have a telephone in his study.

We talk on the phone for a variety of reasons and this wonderful device allows us to accomplish two things; to be active (masculine) – talking and to be receptive (feminine) – listening and this two-way form of communicating is very much needed when dealing with someone who is experiencing issues associated with mental health.  Let’s face it mental health is nothing so special, we ALL face mental health issues – it is part of being human. Our brains are constantly working overtime processing sights, sounds and feelings it’s the headquarters – the hub – of the human body.  Everything operates out of the brain and when we overdo it, we get a “head-ache”.

Alexander Graham Bell making the first long distance phone call. (Source: The Canadian Encyclopedia)

But sometimes those headaches happen too often, the pain increases while we try to process a symphony of thoughts that for some, the orchestra is playing out of tune. We are in our minds and in our heads so much so that talking to someone who is actually listening can relieve the pressure to show the conductor how to improve their symphony of thinking.  Playing a bad tune, left unchecked for so long does tend to develop a bit of sickness and over time the brain begins to disintegrate and deteriorate.

Managing our mental health is a part of everyone’s daily life.  Some have even made a profession out of mental health and as a result we have a whole industry of hospitals, doctors, schools, military, technology and pharmaceuticals addressing the issue – it’s a big business and a whole lot of money is being made, to the point of gluttony, with our inability to manage our thoughts.  Yet it doesn’t have to be this way and Bell is trying to remind people that when the going gets tough – pick up the phone and just start talking!  It’s no different than seeing a psychiatrist – that’s what you’d do in a room perhaps with a couch for an hour or two – you talk, somebody listens and provides their feedback.  While mental health is a natural part of everyday human living, there is also the issue of mental “disease” and for that one does need the help of a professional.

Okay Bell, Let’s Talk, Mental Health.

Creating Mental Illness

Back in the day everything seemed so simple.  Being mentally challenged was saved for the extreme cases which usually meant you were demon possessed and then as the centuries progressed mental illness was identified as “madness” and the label of mental illness was reserved for extreme states of bizarre behavior usually found in those who resided in asylums or as some may call “loonie bins”.  These individuals would be suffering from ‘severe mental conditions such as schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders hysteria, hyper activity and depression.  Their behavior would require the use of asylums because their behavior was so severe, incomprehensible and disruptive.’ Now, thanks to Freud (and others), the ‘theory of psychoanalysis and more general systems of dynamic  psychiatry that stemmed from it, expanded the field to take in a broad range of neurotic conditions rather than the small number of psychotic conditions that asylum psychiatry emphasized.’  It’s seemed the more that we learned about mental health the more labels we’ve created to describe a variety of conditions of the human spirit that makes us feel inadequate and that we suffer a mental inability to cope with everyday stresses.

Alexander Graham Bell using the first telephone. (Biography: Undiscovered Scotland)

Anybody who didn’t fit the status quo could be explained away as having some sort of psychosis, or be described as a socio-path, psychopath, bi-polar, megalomania, ADHD, or schizophrenic – “she/he’s crazy!” “He/she is not right in the head!” etc.  Next thing you know that person could very well find themselves subjected to aversion or behavior modification therapy and I don’t know which is worse.  Aversion therapy aims to control our thoughts before it becomes our behavior through the use of drugs.  “Aversion therapy,” in which the individual is taught to associate criminal or deviant thoughts, or behavior disapproved of by the prison staff, with nausea, sickness, muscular paralysis, or terror induced by drugs such as anectine or apomorphine or even by electroshock treatment, has been practiced experimental or possibly even routinely in a number of American prisons…” explains the authors of Not in our Genes “There have been eloquent testimonies to the terrifying and brutalizing effects of such strategies.”

But the use of drugs to modify behavior inside institutions is only a symptom of he much wider search for chemical fixes outside; in the community at large….The massive utilization of psychotropic is part of the mechanism of adjusting the individual to the status quo, of hyping, sedating, or tranquilizing the emotions.  People trim or stretch themselves – or are trimmed or stretched by society, which insists on shaping its citizens into happy – or at least uncomplaining – consumers, if they are not to be expelled or institutionalized as congenitally unfit.  We are not denying that drugs work they affect our emotions, thoughts and behavior and when faced with unendurable pain drugs offer one way of masking it.  But they don’t cure it.” [Not in our Genes, p. 175]

Over the years mental health has certainly been used as a very useful scapegoat instead of dealing with and/or to conceal an issue.  Take for example Joe down the road who can’t find work perhaps doesn’t even want to work at all, he’ll talk to his doctor who can magically think up of some “mental health” issue that he’s suffering from, write up a note or two not only for medication but to support Joe’s application for ODSP or some form of government social assistance until time indefinite.  The Doctor doesn’t mind because he gets a kickback from the pharmaceutical companies (maybe even from the government), Joe will stop looking for work, the government gets to justify its existence through their departmental budget and everyone is happy.

Old Telephone (Source: Scripts for School)

Allan V. Horwitz author of Creating Mental Illness examines the conception of mental illness as a “disease”, to which I would fully agree that is in the way that we should because it addresses a small but pertinent collective who truly do authentically suffer from a number of serious psychological conditions.  He argues that most conditions currently regarded as mental illness are cultural constructions, normal reactions to stressful social circumstances or simply forms of deviant behavior.  Horwitz believes the formulation of mental illness as a “disease” benefits various interest groups, including mental health researchers and mental health advocacy groups all of whom promote “disease” based models.  This would include but not limited to; hysteria, depression and multiple personality disorders.

Schizophrenia is a chronic disorder characterized by symptoms that include hallucinations, delusions, and abnormalities in the verbal expression of thought, diminished social interactions, diminished motivation, and difficulties with cognitive tasks involving attention, memory, and planning. The long term course of this disorder varies. Some individuals, with the help of appropriate medication and social support, can live independently, be employed, and enjoy friends and hobbies. For others, however, the symptoms are difficult to manage and interfere with most aspects of their lives, often leading to disability and early death.  As such, it is also not uncommon for persons with schizophrenia to use street drugs and alcohol, and chronic abuse of alcohol or illicit drugs negatively impacts their long term outcome. [Manufacturing Mental Illness]

Do not adjust your mind; the fault is in reality” ~ a 1968 slogan

Which brings me to another type of therapy often used “behavior modification” which is another method of one seeking [or achieving] control of the behavior of another human body; basically treating a person like a pet or in a childlike manner through reinforcement techniques.  Eventually the person learns to “behave” in a certain way as a ‘result of rewards or punishment, subtly or less subtly administered by his/her “environment” of parents, teachers, and peers.’  Behavioral Control Units that employ this technique at various times involves sensory deprivation, restricted diet, solitary confinement, and loss of remission.  It is often used in the education system for “behaviorally disturbed children” or labelled as “destructive”.  It is essentially “victim-blaming”, that seeks to locate the problem inside the individual, who must be tailored to fit the social order that he/she so evidently mismatches at present.  In retrospect, one is basically manipulating the individual whether by drugs or by electro shocks, to bend to another’s concept of “normalcy”, to conform to what is “socially acceptable”.

Why did Alexander Graham Bell invent the telephone? (Source:

Scapegoating – Schizophrenia and Sterilization

Psychiatry’s boundaries are exceedingly blurred and ill-defined, little agreement exists on the criteria for defining mental illness, as such, the mentally ill are often used as scapegoats for society’s fears.  This sentiment is echoed through arguments developed in its most extreme form by M. Foucault and his school over the last two decades that the entire category of psychological disorders is to be seen as a historical invention an expression of power relationships within society manifested within particular families.  Foucault’s intricate arguments he claimed that all societies require a category of individuals who can be dominated or scapegoated and over the centuries since the rise of science – industrial revolution – the mad have come to fulfill this category.

In this view, “madness is a matter of labeling it is not a property of the individuals but merely a social definition wished by society on a proportion of its population. To look for correlates of madness in the brain the genes is a meaningless task for it is not located in the brain or in the individual at all.  To dismiss the suffering and the deranged behavior of the schizophrenic merely as a problem of social labeling by those who have power over those who do have not seem quite inadequate response to a complex social and medical problem.”

Birthplace of Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone – 14 South Charlotte Street – Biographies (Source: Museum of Scotland)

A Doctor’s Recommendation:

“This [now] twenty-six year old woman is a mental defective who has shown promiscuous sexual behavior as a component of her erratic and disturbed mental condition…rehabilitation plans and her release from hospital without the benefit of an operation for sexual sterilization would undoubtedly result in illegitimate children who would run a grave risk of a mental order.” 

Many of us can we can recall what some of what the doctors and nurses had to say of female patients, especially indigenous women, during the heighten eugenics era who used their socio-economic and “emotional instability” to justify their recommendations for sterilization.  Fearing a decrease in the birth rate due to their increased access to education, the pursuance of work outside the home and rising infant mortality rates, eugenicists sought to bring these women “back home” by enticing them to become crusaders to the eugenic cause.

Eugenicist also encouraged the reproduction of the “fit”, namely women of Anglo-Saxon, middle and upper class origin. “Mother of the Race” a socially responsible, moral and civilized woman who would shape the future of the race through “child raising” and “civilizing” others.  “Moron girl”, “immoral” and “uncivilized” girl, a biological threat to the health and advancement of the race.    These women began to view themselves as “scientific experts” and “mothers of the race” thus becoming the driving force behind a movement of what became to be known as the “Scientific Sexual Reform”.

Alexander Graham Bell (Source:

Cecily Devereux highlights that Indians were considered the least desirable non-British group by eugenicists like James Shaver Woodsworth who was heavily involved in the West in missionary work and believed the presence of Aboriginal people should be erased from the landscape.  Nellie McClung of the Famous Five sought to “conquer these Poisons” (TB, alcohol use and the sexual immorality of some women) by training “uncivilized” women, including immigrant, impoverished and aboriginal mothers, in the arts of “mothercraft”; how to breastfeed and bottle-feed and in what constitutes good hygiene and proper food preparation.  In spite of her belief that assimilation represented a cure for “Indian-ness” in other cases, McClung saw the need for more direct eugenic interventions and she actively promoted sexual sterilization.

Another Famous Five, Emily Murphy is to have said to have dispensed a “moral justice” and her “women’s court” has been referred to as a “clearing house for the unfit” because she often argued that the women passing before her should be sterilized rather than incarcerated for their crimes. Murphy viewed sterilization as a useful means of protecting women and child from sexual attack, of ending the crippling expense of incarceration, and of promoting the mental and physical betterment of the race.

A Doctor’s recommendation:

“Patient is a mentally defective Indian girl who has always been incorrigible, wild, undisciplined and promiscuous…Sterilization is therefore strongly recommended to prevent patient from having illegitimate children which the community would have to be for and for who it would be very difficult to find foster homes.”

Indigenous women were not the only targets for sterilization; immigrant, racialized, prostitutes and the poor often became targets of these barbaric practices.  Promiscuity, venereal disease, and pregnancy were often pathologicalized and women and girls were presumed to be suffering individual, psychological or psychiatric maladjustment” if they engaged in premarital sex, had more than one sexual partner or gave birth to illegitimate children. Through the work of these reformers, and later through the influence of the medical, psychological and social work professions, a juvenile and criminal justice system was created with very clear gender, class and racial biases and it was assumed those at the bottom of the social latter were more promiscuous. But in reality, the primary reason for the sexual sterilization of women, according to the author, appears to be due to their [chaotic, disorderly and threatening] non-conformity to socially defined roles.

Leilani Muir is shown with her files that detail her sterilization at 14 years of age.

That is until Leilani Muir came on to the  scene and made history suing Alberta over forced sterilization. Raised by an abusive mother, wrongly diagnosed as a “moron,” then subjected to the forced removal of her fallopian tubes at the age of 14, Leilani O’Malley endured a life of pain, stigma and humiliation but eventually regained her dignity in a 1996 landmark lawsuit that exposed a dark chapter in Alberta’s history.

“Psychiatry does not deal with ill people at all but rather with their problems in the living.” ~Thomas Szaz

While biologically based causes and treatments fit some entities formulated, Horowitz finds that more often than not, social responses offer more suitable remedies.  Horowitz claims that “mental health is not a “disease”, rather, it is a response to the ‘social constructions that has emerged in a particular historical era rather than characterizations of a natural underlying state.’ However,” he noted “labeling theory also seemed inadequate because clients, mental health professionals, and the culture at large seemed to participate in a shared culture that believed in the reality of these mental diseases.”

Alexander Graham Bell (Source: Getty Images)

Therefore we must be aware of how cultural forces are associated with overt symptoms of mental disorders which do not address the entities that underlie the unconscious.  Cultures provide the structures, in which people can perceive, facilitate and interpret certain kinds of symptoms while discouraging others  by presenting certain scripts of illnesses that can be; shaped, ignored, remembered, forgotten, responded to or neglected.  Naming or labelling a disorder provides a coherent frame that organizes in ways that a culture would understand. This labelling or naming could be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), social phobias, depression, panic disorders and so on. By labelling and naming these conditions it transforms something a group of incoherent physical and psychological symptoms that we culturally recognize thus providing a socially acceptable explanation for an otherwise non-descriptive symptoms.  As such the form of particular symptoms results from groups arising from the ‘cultural context in which they arise and not from an underlying disease process.’

So no, you are not crazy.  Stressed, perhaps, but not crazy.  And I’d say that’s a good start.


Go To- Bell Let’s Talk: Part II – The Internet,  Part III – Internet of Things (IoT)Part IV- Privacy



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