In 1994, writer Abigail Padgett published Child of Silence, the first in a series of mysteries featuring Bo Bradley, a child protection advocacy investigator – who just happens to have bipolar disorder (or manic depression, as it was more commonly called back then). The series continued through four more books – Strawgirl, Turtle Baby, Moonbird Boy, and The Dollmaker’s Daughter. (All are still available as ebooks.)
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask Padgett some questions about her books, her heroine, and the state of mental health care today.
Is there anything you would change about Bo Bradley, given the advances made in understanding bipolar disorder and medication for it?
Not really. There are some new meds and public understanding is better, but the experience of people who live with real, clinical mood disorders is still fraught, dangerous and revelatory.
Bipolar disorder is better understood by the general public now than it was 20 years ago – to an extent. But the general public, including me, cannot ever actually “get” what a manic or depressive or psychotic episode feels like. The best that can be hoped for is an acute public interest and support. Movies, especially like Touched With Fire, are enormously helpful.
What do you think of Stigma Fighters, the Semicolon Project and celebrity awareness campaigns? Are they having much effect?
Hard to say anything about effects without any data, but . . . I think focusing on the big corporate/cultural atrocities is really important. Examples are a two-page NYC menswear ad in which the front page said, “If you’re paying $50 for this shirt . . .,” turn to reverse of page, “then you should be wearing this one” (photo of a straitjacket). The store, Daffy’s, actually got an award for that ad! Then there was John Deere’s “schizophrenic tractor” and a tire company here in CA that did a horrible TV ad showing a man in a straitjacket in a padded cell trying to eat a cake with no hands. years ago I worked with Jean Arnold and Nora Weinerth for the National Stigma Clearinghouse (http://stigmanet.net/ABOUT%20THE%20NATIONAL%20STIGMA%20CLEARINGHOUSE.htm), which is still active. The idea was to go after major companies who ridiculed psychiatric illnesses, diagnoses, doctors, or anything associated with mental illness.
Stigma Fighters seems to be a venue for supportive communication and that’s good, but it doesn’t have much effect outside itself. And I love the Semicolon Project idea! A good image is worth a million words in terms of broad impact, and I hope that one can organize and grow into a significant movement.
Celebrities? Any day that a celeb states publicly that s/he is living with a psychiatric disorder is a good day. Americans adore and identify with celebs. (Not good for either Americans or the celebs, but nonetheless the way it is.)
What one change would you most like to see in the mental health care system?
One? Have to go with funding. Funding for psych research; for psych hospital care for as long as it takes, not just a week or two; for clean, professionally staffed respite centers in every town; for attractive, professionally staffed halfway houses; for arts programs, job training, theater tickets – you know, the world?
Is it time for another Bo Bradley novel?
Another Bo, The Stork Boy, is over half finished. Bo and [her partner] Andrew are in France, where she can’t even read a menu but nonetheless gets involved in a murder. Of course the #1 suspect is mentally ill. Bo to the rescue!
Is there anything else you would like to say about your work, bipolar disorder, or anything else?
Vote for Hillary. The alternative is inconceivable.
Comments always welcome!