Kenneth Cole Posts Controversial Billboard About Guns and Mental Illness

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Early last week, fashion designer Kenneth Cole tweeted a message about gun reform, and some mental health advocates are outraged.

“Over 40 million Americans suffer from mental illness,” the billboard message reads. “Some can access care…all can access guns.”

Advocates say this perpetuates the stereotype that people with mental illness are violent.

“We’re sick and tired of the stigma associated with our illness,” Dolores Sanchez, mental health advocate and founder of the website Mental Health Justice told The Mighty. “If they’re trying to send the message that we want more accessibility to mental health care, this is a warped way of promoting it.”

In a blog post featured on her website, Sanchez called the billboard a “sensationalized portrayal” and quoted Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, a professor in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, who said, “If we were able to magically cure schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression, that would be wonderful, but overall violence would go down by only about four percent.” Ultimately, Sanchez wants the billboard to be taken down and for Cole to issue an apology to the 40 million Americans who live with mental illness.

The Brady Campaign, a non-profit that advocates for gun reform, retweeted Cole’s billboard. Brendan Kelly, a representative from the Brady Campaign, said by promoting the billboard, they only meant to reiterate the beliefs of their campaign.

“[The decision to retweet] was simply a reflection of our firm belief that mental health care should be more readily accessible than guns, not to shift any blame to mental health,” he told The Mighty in an email.

But Leo Briones, communications director for Mental Health Justice, told The Mighty this message is like any other subtle, discriminatory act.

“What you’re insinuating is that there are 40 million suffering from mental illness, and if they get a gun they’re going to hurt you,” he said. “It’s an outrage.”

Briones pointed out someone with a mental illness is more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of violence. He also criticized the nature of the message — a billboard is meant to get people’s attention, fast. No matter Cole’s intent, simplifying an issue and targeting a population of people to get an emotional response is socially irresponsible, Briones said.

The next day, Cole responded to accusations that his message stigmatized those with mentally illness, taking to Twitter to defend his ad.

His message reads, “This ad not meant to further stigmatize those suffering from mental illness community in need and already under-served.”

Creating an environment where people can talk about mental illness without shame, says Sanchez, is a more productive way to start the conversation about gun control and mental illness.

“We’re starving for good care, and there’s a real need and an appetite for a discussion,” she said. “But when you start that discourse with stereotypical, illogical and misleading connections, there’s no way it’s really helping people.”

Sanchez encourages others to reach out to Kenneth Cole, by contacting his organization and joining the already established boycott movement, #‎BoycottKennethCole‬. She’s also asking the Brady Foundation to disavow themselves from the billboard.

What do you think? Tell us in the comments below. 

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10 Things I Wish I Could Tell My Childhood Self About Cerebral Palsy

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Now that I’m an adult and am a little bit more mature, I look back on my life and wish there were some things I would have known or done as a child growing up with cerebral palsy (CP). So here are 10 things I wish I could tell my childhood self:

1. It will all be worth it.

All of the surgeries, the pain, hospital stays and doctors’ visits: It’s all going to be worth it. You’re going to benefit from all of this in more ways than you can think about right now. You need to look towards the future and understand your life will be so much better because of what you’re dealing with right now.

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My childhood self.

2. Don’t be afraid to go after what you want.

You have so many dreams and big ideas. Don’t lose sight of them and go for it! Otherwise, you’ll look back and wish you had acted on those dreams earlier.

3. Don’t limit yourself.

Just because you have CP doesn’t mean you should limit yourself. Start getting that into your head now, otherwise you’re going to miss out on some pretty awesome stuff in life. And that will be nobody’s fault but your own.

4. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed about who you are.

Yes, you have CP. So what? Be yourself. Do what you love and don’t apologize for who you are.

5. Learn to be approachable.

Sometimes people are going to view you differently at first. That’s not fair, I know. But that’s just how it’s going to be. So you need to learn to be approachable. Don’t seem standoffish because you are offended by the way people perceive you. Instead, smile and be friendly. It’s going to make such a difference.

6. You’re not less of a person.

Just because you have CP, that doesn’t make you less of a person. You’re just as important as everybody else.

7. It’s OK to laugh at yourself.

You’re going to fall. A lot. You will trip. You will stumble. In crowds, in hallways, in the middle of the school courtyard (where everyone can see). It’s going to be a pretty normal occurrence in your life. You can laugh about it. It’s OK. Sometimes, when you think about it, some of your “incidents” are going to be pretty hilarious.

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Me as an adult.

8. Stand up for yourself and be an advocate for others.

There will be times when people are going to openly gawk. They’ll be rude and make snide comments. Don’t let them get away with making you feel bad about yourself. Stand up for yourself and be proud of the person you are. Be an advocate for others, too. You are in a pretty important situation. You have the ability to be an advocate for those who might not be able to be one for themselves. So stand up for them, too, because you can.

9. Don’t take your life for granted.

It may not seem like it now because you’re just a little kid and can’t really comprehend why you have to go through the things you do. But you’re so incredibly lucky and blessed to have the life that you do. You have a disability, yes, but things could have been so much worse. Don’t take this life you’ve been given for granted. You’ve been given it for a reason. So go out and live your life to the fullest.

10. And lastly, love yourself.

You are different, but you are beautifully different. Remind yourself of that now so that you’re not still dealing with self-esteem issues when you’re an adult. You are loved and you are important. Never forget that.

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5 Ways I Stay Positive Living With Epilepsy

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Epilepsy has one job, and one job only. To attempt to make our lives a living hell. We have one job, too, as epilepsy fighters. To return the favor. You see, I refuse to allow epilepsy to steal, kill and destroy my joy. Sure, epilepsy is here and it’s going to be here for a time. However, I’ve got my life to live and I’m going to live it to the fullest regardless of this condition. Yeah, it might get in the way from time to time and I may need to make some adjustments, but that’s OK with me.

The challenge I’m presented with here is an opportunity to grow and become stronger as a person. The more difficult the challenge, the greater opportunity for growth and strength.

This motivation and inspiration has propelled me forward throughout my entire journey. Becoming diagnosed at age 22, just four months after marriage was not what I was planning or prepared for. This challenged me to the very brink of what I believed I could endure. However, I believe I overcame because I not only have God at the center of my life, I have an incredible husband and an amazing family and I absolutely refused to give up even though my life had been suddenly turned upside down.

From the beginning I’ve reminded myself and shared with others: “Don’t let epilepsy defeat you, let it inspire you.”

5 ways I enjoy staying positive living with epilepsy.

1. Counting blessings

I could spend all my time thinking and reflecting on how terrible and awful my situation is. But you know what? My blessings far outweigh my burdens. So I’d rather think and reflect on that more often. It causes me to smile, brightens my mood, motivates me, inspires me, gives me purpose etc. etc. etc.

2. Pursuing exciting hobbies and interests

Just because a diagnosis comes into my life doesn’t mean life is put on hold. This doesn’t mean life is over. This doesn’t mean I cannot pursue my hobbies, interests, goals and dreams. As a matter of fact, it causes me to be all the more ambitious to want to achieve my goals, in a smart and cautious manner of course. I will live my life, and I will not allow epilepsy to prevent me from living life to the fullest.

3. Trusting and believing in God

Since becoming diagnosed with epilepsy my relationship with God has grown stronger than it’s ever been in all my life. Growing up in a Christian home, marrying an amazing Christian man with an incredible Christian family, I can say what a tremendous blessing to be immersed in God’s love. I believe whatever His plan is, I know I can have complete trust and everything will be OK.

4. Standing together with family, friends, fellow epilepsy fighters and supporters

There are so many people who continually inspire, motivate and encourage me on a daily basis throughout this journey. It’s a beautiful sight to see, us all united in strength rather than shattered and scattered in defeat.

5. A daily reminder to myself: “Today you will rise above epilepsy!” 

It’s so important what you tell yourself. Self speak will either hurt you or help you. I never want to tell myself anything that will hurt me. I do my best to avoid this. I’m not perfect. No one is. However, this phrase right here is a great way to start a day.

What methods do you use to stay positive when life decides to take an unexpected turn down a rocky road?

Follow this writer on The Epilepsy Journey.

Do you have a story about your experience with epilepsy? Please send it to [email protected] and include a photo for the story, a photo of yourself and a 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our “Share Your Story” page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Watch This Woman Answer the Internet’s Weird Wheelchair Sex Questions

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Comedian and actress Santina Muha has been in a wheelchair since she was 5 years old, according to the BuzzFeed video below. That means she has a lifetime of experience to share, and share is exactly what she does.

Muha answers questions, offers advice and shares her personal experiences about dating, love and sex. For example, when asked how she has sex, Muha responds:

I don’t understand why this question is so popular. How do you have sex? I mean do you guys walk around while you have sex?”

Watch Muha answer wheelchair-related questions about love, dating and sex: 

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On Autism and Bullying: A Plea to Parents of Neurotypical Children

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Today I took the day off blogging and took my daughter, Wee Girl, and my son, Little Man, on a trip to Battersea Park Children’s Zoo, a small zoo located in… yep, you guessed it, Battersea Park. They have a selection of smaller animals and a fairly large play area with plenty of room to run around.

The children were happy and amenable, and we had a perfectly nice day, except for one encounter that left me feeling uncomfortable. Wee Girl was on one of the a fort-like structures. She was sitting down, apparently happily occupied, so I paid my attention to Little Man, who had only just woken up.

Gradually, I became aware that all was not well. A group of children were sitting beneath the fort where Wee Girl was sitting. I’m pretty sure they were talking about her, and not in a nice way. Maybe she was mouthing some of the wood chips. I suspect they may have been throwing them — not at her, but in her direction. I don’t know exactly what went on, and Wee Girl was oblivious (at least, I hope she was oblivious. But as I’ve already learned, just because it doesn’t look like she’s aware of something doesn’t mean that she isn’t paying attention). The whole situation left a dark shadow over an otherwise lovely day.

I was bullied at school. Never physically, but the kind of low-level nastiness that gradually grinds away at your self-worth until there’s nothing left but a stub. When I first became pregnant, I wanted a boy. Why? Because I never wanted my child to go through what I went through, and I felt that life would be somehow easier for a boy (OK, OK… but I wasn’t in a great place at the time). When we learned our baby’s gender, my heart sank just a little — not out of disappointment, but out of fear. And then, Wee Girl was born, and she was beautiful and perfect and I knew my fears of her being bullied because of the way she looked were groundless.

Well, men make plans and God laughs, because bullying of children and adults with autism is a huge problem.

Early this year, the Wirral Autistic Society conducted a survey about “mate crime,” a form of bullying where people with autism are bullied or manipulated by people they think of as friends. It was a fairly small survey, limited to the Merseyside area, with only 141 respondents, but still the results are pretty chilling.

Eighty percent of respondents over the age of 16 felt they had been bullied or been taken advantage of by someone they had thought was a friend. Eighty-five percent often feel lonely and left out. This number is just 11 percent in the general population, according to the survey.

The full survey is here, and I urge you to read it. Even if you are the parent of a neurotypical child. Especially if you are the parent of a neurotypical child. The quotes from the respondents are particularly worth reading. They’re heartbreaking, really.

Meanwhile, in the especially sad news corner, the parents of a teenage girl with autism have removed her from school after an anonymous note made claims that, among other children, she had been the target of bullying from a teacher. An investigation has been launched and it may well turn out to be lies, but this strikes fear into the heart of every parent of a child with communication difficulties. Because, what if?

The relatively recent revelations about institutionalized abuse have knocked my trusting, calm, safe little world head over heels. On top of that, this nasty little story is kicking it repeatedly in the backside with a hobnailed boot.

The letter reeks of malice to me, although I don’t blame the parents for removing their daughter from school for one millisecond. But if the letter is a pack of lies, what sort of person would send such a vicious, spiteful note, deliberately undermining the parents’ trust in the school and disrupting the poor girl’s education? Whether the letter is true or not, she remains the victim of bullying. There is no good end to this story.

I trust the school where we are sending Wee Girl. But what will happen in the next five years, the next 10? Who will her friends be, and will she be able to trust them? All I want is for Wee Girl to be happy. If I could, I would wrap her up warm and safe and cozy in a blanket and keep her safe from the world. But I can’t do that, and even if I could, that’s not what parents are meant to do. All I can do is equip her with the tools to cope as best I can and send her out into the world, hoping with all my heart she doesn’t get hurt.

So, if you are a parent of a neurotypical child, please remember this: not all bullying is obvious. Some is subtle, quiet slip-under-the-radar stuff, and even the person it’s happening to might not know it’s happening. It’s talking about a child who isn’t responding appropriately because he is unable to engage with his peers. It’s laughing at a child who is mouthing something, or making strange noises, or flapping his or her hands, or spinning around. It’s ostracizing them because they are different, because they are “weird.”

Teach your children that this isn’t acceptable. Please don’t just assume they’ll know automatically, or that they’re sweet and kind and would never behave that way. Don’t kid yourself. Kids can be mean, even the good ones. Part of it is because of lack of understanding and part of it is the influence of their peers, but it’s all horrible and it needs to stop.

Follow this journey on All Past Midnight.

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How Tom Cruise Encouraged Me to Speak Up About Mental Illness

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Since Tom Cruise publicly denounced actress Brooke Shields’ decision to treat postpartum depression with medication almost 10 years ago, his words have resonated in my head. “You don’t know the history of psychiatry. I do,” he told Matt Lauer. “There’s no such thing as a chemical imbalance.”

I’ve watched Mr. Cruise’s interview about his take on mental illness half a dozen times, each time finding myself more dumbfounded. I wasn’t angry at him for expressing such an opinion. That’s the beauty of the First Amendment. I was discouraged by his tone, demeanor and lack of willingness to discuss mental illness. But what really struck a chord with me was knowing that thousands and thousands of people were watching this interview – many being Tom Cruise fans who value, trust and believe everything the celebrity says. Most importantly, many of whom could be silently living with a mental illness themselves. Now after this interview, they could be losing belief in psychiatry and treatment options.

But Mr. Cruise made a valid point when he stated that people should do their “homework” on psychiatry. They certainly should before drawing their own conclusion. And so I did. I started writing down my own feelings, research, experiences and opinions on psychiatry. (After all, if Mr. Cruise could do it, then so can anyone!) I’ve put great effort into researching and understanding its origin, various types of treatment, effects of genetic makeup and most importantly, the views that others have.

For me, understanding the existence of chemical imbalances has been a big source of personal comfort. While treatment programs come in all different shapes and sizes, the outpatient program I was in was not tailored to one specific type of mental illness. My doctors did warned there would be people in my program who were from different backgrounds, battling issues unlike my own.

I entered the program thinking I only wanted to talk to people who had depression like myself. I was narrow-minded and didn’t think I could learn from people who were going through different experiences. But I thought of Tom Cruise and realized how listening to others, rather than constantly speaking, can enlighten your personal inner soul. I learned people with mental illness come in all different shapes and sizes, and that one person’s unique experience can relate to someone else’s, even if they have completely different issues.

If anything, I owe Mr. Cruise a big “thank you” for giving me the courage to voice my own opinion about mental illness. Not only that, but for reiterating the value of listening to others’ experiences and opinions. Being biased doesn’t help to inspire or teach anything.

Although it took several years to gather my thoughts into complete sentences, it helped me to understand myself, but most importantly it taught me the importance of being tolerant towards others’ decisions, experiences and views. The 2005 Tom Cruise interview magnified the necessity for listening to one another, because without this, how can we learn to understand and respect one another? So Mr. Cruise, thank you for the inspiration to speak up, but most importantly, to listen first.

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