Villanovan’s Book of the Week: Interrupted Girl | Culture


With National Suicide Prevention Day taking place on Friday, September 10, it’s time to reflect both on the progress society has made in de-stigmatizing mental illness, as well as the changes that are yet to occur. Until recently, mental illness was taboo. However, the hard work and determination of mental health advocates has highlighted and fostered the normalization of mental health discourse.

Several initiatives on campus have contributed to advances, such as the “Bandana Project”. By tying bright green bandanas on backpacks, students provide visible support to their peers who may be seeking mental health resources. Additionally, the “If You’re Reading This” letter-writing campaign from Villanova students works to raise awareness of a plethora of issues and to de-stigmatize discourse. So, as people with mental illness speak more and more about their experience, awareness and unity spreads to those who suffer in silence.

Written in 1994, Susanna Kaysen’s memoir “Girl, Interrupted” provides an overview of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts. McLean is one of the most famous mental hospitals in the United States and is also the setting for Slyvia Plath’s highly acclaimed novel “The Bell Jar”. In Kaysen’s case, she uses her own experience at McLean as a sort of case study of mental health care and diagnostics in the 1960s. She does so by contrasting her memories of the hospital with the notes of the doctor and psychiatrist who assess the same events that the voice of his young person, called only Susanna, recounts in each chapter.

Kaysen defines mental illness throughout the novel in various ways. For example, she states that it is “a communication problem between performers one and two,” referring to the logical and more imaginative parts of the brain.

She eventually comes to the conclusion that no DSM-5 criteria can ever really sum up what she’s been through, as the outward perception of her illness cannot be categorized precisely by the faulty system. Kaysen points out such systematic flaws by arguing that psychoanalysts who study “the mind” and neurobiologists who study “the brain” fail to coordinate and therefore cannot figure out how to “fix” the communication between “performers”. one and two. “

Kaysen also draws attention to the influence of gender in the world of mental health care. She points out that professionals are inclined to diagnose more women with mental illnesses and don’t even try to hide this inequality. For example, the DSM-5 criteria for mental illnesses such as borderline personality disorder explicitly focus on women. Kaysen underlines this by citing “shopping sprees, shoplifting and binge eating” as criteria often attributed to this disorder.

This dissertation is incredibly vulnerable and self-reflective, a magnificent body of work that has shaped and helped the mental health movement thrive in the 21st century. Using metaphors of geography and time and the symbolism of Vermeer’s “Girl Interrupted by Her Music”, Kaysen offers readers a glimpse into her mind and teenage life. The memoir went on to become a national bestseller and was even adapted by Sony Pictures into a 1999 film starring Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder.

If you or someone you know has mental health issues, the following resources are available: Villanova Counseling Center (610-519-4050) and National Suicide Lifeline (800-273-8255).

About Elizabeth Smith

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