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Monday, November 24, 2008

Normals and Crazies

David, a student in the Disability and Diversity Certificate Program, writes:

The essay “Normals, Crazies, Insiders and Outsiders: The Relevance of Sue Estroff's Medical Anthropology to Disability Studies,” (Vol. 1 Issue 3, 2005) by Diane R. Wiener lauds the promising interdisciplinary study of medical anthropology and disability studies in relation to the amount of growth both disciplines could achieve together in relation to the continuing development and redefining in areas of discipline for people with mental health disabilities.
The essay is a summary of an in depth review of medical anthropologist Sue Estroff and her view of people that have cognitive disabilities with emphasis placed on the classification, institutionalization, rehabilitation, and socialization of people referred to as “crazy.”
Craziness, madness, or whatever the term we in society choose to label individuals with schizophrenia and other mental health disorders can and have been devastating to the community not only for the people most affected by the terms used to classify them but also by the stigma that is attached to those words. For example the medical classification of schizophrenia would in a street conversation be equated with some being called “crazy.” “He is crazy, she is crazy”, are ways people simply dust off their shoulders, so to speak, when a quick, lay term is needed. The terminology is in question for both Wiener and Estroff. The 1970's is discussed as not only a time that receives heavy criticism for the methods used to treat mental illness but is not demonized by Estroff because, per se, she is viewing the positive and negative of both sides. The 1970's, to sum up, is not as bad as it is right now.
So the question for me is how can medical anthropology and disability studies merge to become a bigger and stronger entity in the changing American view of mental illness? Well I believe it has to start at the institutional level. College curriculum needs to be created and have a test run to find if there are indeed individuals who are interested in the the merger of these two disciplines.
I think it is an excellent venture to pursue because anthropology can be made very complimentary to the individual. Like Estroff's research with life narratives of individuals that have mental illnesses we can begin the change of helping this segment of the community by including people that have mental illness into the research. It is surprising to read in the essay that people with mental illness are not nearly as included in their research, care, aid, etc. as persons with a visual, auditory, or learning disabilities.
The combination of both these fields can create a new field like Social Psychology, I think it is definitely worth investigating and more medical anthropologists should be invited into the realm of disability studies. It is after all another area that people have in all cultures and deserves as much attention now as it ever has because of the changing attitudes of people and the new change that we have decided to take as a nation since November 4th 2008.

Youth Suicide

Tiffany, a student in the Disability and Diversity Certificate, writes:

Youth suicide is a major public health problem in the United States today. Youth between the ages of 15 to 24 are more likely to die from committing suicide than from all natural causes combined (National Center for Health Statistics, 2000). Suicide is the third leading cause of death in children and youths. A review of the literature suggests that students with disabilities may be at higher risk for suicidal ideation, especially students with depression, mood disorders or undiagnosed disabilities (McBride & Siegel, 1997).
Very little information is available regarding the prevalence of depression or suicide in students who receive special education services, although relationships between cognitive disabilities and depression and between diminished problem solving abilities and suicidal behavior have been noted. Medical problems have also been associated with depression and suicide. Estimates of the prevalence of depression or symptoms of depression among children and youth with learning or behavior problems tend to be higher than those for the general population (Guetzloe, 1991).
The research literature in the area of suicide reveals that there are two important interrelated factors that correlate with suicide rates: being young and being disabled. Being physically disabled has an effect on the tendency towards committing suicide. Young people who are disabled have the desire to build social relationships w/ others, but sometimes, their physical condition may be a deterring factor in creating and maintaining relationships and may create obstacles. In turn, young people with disability may not involved themselves in relationships with others or others may not want to have a relationships with them, which can lead to social isolation and thoughts of suicide (Burcu, 2007).
Guetzloe (1991) wrote that evidence of a specific psychiatric disorder and other disabilities may contribute to suicidal ideation and possibly be overlooked by educators. Educators should have the responsibility to increase awareness, prevention and intervention activities at their schools and should know how to access local resources and expertise should they encounter a student who has expressed suicidal thoughts or feelings.


Burcu, E. (2007). Disability and youth suicide: A focus group study of disabled university students. The Review of Disability Studies: An International Journal, 3(1), 33-48. Retrieved November 10, 2008 from

Guetzloe, E.C. (1991). Suicide and the exceptional child (Report No. E508). Reston, VI: ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED340152)

McBride, H.E.A., & Siegel, L.S. (1997). Learning disabilities and adolescent suicide. Journal of Learning Disabilites, 30, 650-659.

National Center for Health Statistics. (2000). Deaths from 282 selected causes by 5-year age Groups, race, sex: Each state and the District of Columbia, 1995-1998. Retrieved on November 10, 2008 from