April 4, 2013

charismatic megafauna

In a former life I was a graduate student in the field of natural resources. One concept that stuck with me was the power of "charismatic megafauna." The public is more likely to support environmental policies that protect animals that are adorable, and unlikely to be moved by less tangible species. Deer and owls draw dollars; lichen and snakes, not so much.

I fear a similar phenomena in mental health. As much as it matters to the bereaved families that an eating disorder patient was "A former head girl and top athlete," or "brilliant" or "beautiful," these attractive qualities are rather bizarre to point up as deepening the tragedy of their struggle and their loss.

Less shiny, less accomplished, average folks with eating disorders don't deserve to die more than anyone else.

I dislike it when I read that the victims of eating disorders are "often the best and the brightest" or somehow angelic and apart. 

We should fight for those struggling with mental illness regardless of their attractive qualities. In fact, we need to acknowledge that the very symptoms of mental illness can render a person quite miserable and difficult but every bit in need of recovery and a life that is normal - not some pressure to yet another kind of perfectionism.

3 comments:

  1. This is a particular sadness to my daughter - in her words "the young anorexic is seen as so much more tragic and worthy than the forty year old binge-eater and yet they both suffer hugely, and risk death. It's just that the older, fatter sufferer is less likely to receive either sympathy or professional help"

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  2. But how to raise awareness without using the natural sympathies of the public which tend towards the bright and beautiful rather than the average or the downright difficult.

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  3. That is the question, isn't it. My feeling is that if the public's sympathies are dependent on loveliness then we can't be surprised that people believe EDs to be the sole province of young females full of poetry and adorned with butterflies...

    I guess if the homeless population was young and white and female and "the light of the room" the public would go out into the streets and adopt everyone off the grates immediately!

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