Tuesday, February 7, 2012

American Idol: Singing Against Stigma

By Mike Fitzpatrick, NAMI Executive Director

It takes courage for a person to talk about living with a mental illness.

That’s especially the case if you are a teenager.

Even more so when disclosure takes place in front of a television audience of millions on the hit show American Idol.

On Jan. 25, 17-year-old Shelby Tweten of Mankato, Minnesota “wowed” the American Idol judges in an audition that featured a video about her struggle with bipolar disorder.

Shelby has lived with depression since she was in fourth grade. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in March 2011. Singing, she believes, has helped her to persevere.

“I want to show people that bipolar disorder doesn’t define who you are,” she said. In doing so, she has struck a powerful blow against stigma and discrimination.

NAMI members cheered and applauded in their living rooms. For those who were watching with their parents or teenage children, it was an emotional moment.

The moment carried even greater emotion as Shelby sang “Temporary Home” by Carrie Underwood. The refrain can serve as a metaphor in the journey toward recovery:

This is my temporary home
It's not where I belong
Windows and rooms that I'm passin' through
This is just a stop, on the way to where I'm going
I'm not afraid because I know this is my
Temporary home.

Both the video and vocal performance can be seen on many websites, including Hollywood Life.

Talking publicly about your mental illness not only can help strike a blow against stigma, it can be part of recovery itself. It can liberate a person from feelings of stigma. It can stop a person from internalizing shame or fear. Besides being a step toward recovery taken for herself, Shelby’s audition serves as an example that can inspire others. That’s one of the principles on which NAMI’s public education program In Our Own Voice also rests.

So what happens next?

The audition judges selected Shelby to compete as a semi-finalist in Hollywood. Contestants will be eliminated until a winner is selected by the audience in the final episode in May.

I think NAMI members will know who they want to vote for.

Keep singing, Shelby.


gendro said...

Like this article

Madeline Sharples said...

Since my son's death by suicide as a result of his bipolar disorder my goal has been to erase the stigma of mental illness. I truly believe that will save lives. Thanks for sharing about this amazing young woman.

Molly said...

So proud of this courageous girl. This is what it takes to fight the stigma!

Anonymous said...

I'm working up the courage to do the same. The more of us who come out with our mental illness, the more awareness we raise. It's so hard and we will more than likely encounter difficulties and the stigma, but to me, it is worth it. I'm so proud of her!

josie said...

What a change, after they mocked a schizophrenic auditioner for hearing voices.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this article. My husband has severe depression and many people have told him " just snap out of it" If only it were that easy. His family is the main ones behind that sentiment. BUT he has finally found a GREAT treatment team and with them & me, he hopes to get on the raod to dealing with this disease

Anonymous said...


I am often told to "get over it" and turn it over to JESUS! I am also told that focusing on my disorder is an "excuse" in being lazy.
I wish it was that easy to have the ability to "just" get up and go everyday.