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  • Writer's picturejoannadoane

Blogging Against Stigma: Vincent Van Gogh

Vincent Van Gogh Self-Portrait

Welcome to post 1 of my two-week series, Blogging Against Stigma. Someday, with a cumulative effort across society, people may stop dying from things like depression, anxiety, and psychosis. Towards this end, this post is dedicated to Vincent Van Gogh (1853 - 1890), a prolific artist who struggled with mental illness throughout the 1800's. Mr. Van Gogh's struggle is being shared as a means of combating the one remaining factor that continues to haunt us just as much today as it did throughout Van Gogh's lifetime - stigma. It is important to note that the standards of care that were available to citizens struggling with mental illness throughout the 1800's are, by today's standards, incomprehensible. And yet the fear and discomfort around mental health is still the same. For all our treatment options and support systems that have been developed since the 1800's, people are still ashamed and afraid. People are still blamed for illnesses they did not sign up for.

The Starry Night, painted by Vincent van Gogh in June of 1889

While psychotropic medications still come with side effects that can make medication management difficult, there was a time when there were no medications to speak of. Such was the case for Van Gogh who spent the last year of his life in an asylum. While the freedoms he was offered while there were amazing given the time period, he also was not provided much in the way of actual treatment. Despite the fact that he attempted to poison himself on a few occasions, he was later discharged after being deemed "cured". Although he was pronounced cured, Vincent Van Gogh died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound approximately two months after his release, ultimately losing his battle against mental illness.

Van Gogh may have lived and continued to paint for years to come had there been the options in 1890, that there are now in 2019. However, in 1890 there were no outpatient clinics. Medication options that did not leave patients zombie-like would not be developed until the 1970-1980's. The initial forms of psychotherapy would not get underway for another 20 years after Van Gogh's death. And yet, it's been 129 years since Van Gogh's death. People are still killing themselves at alarmingly high rates. Not because they want to die. But because they're exhausted from the pain and see no other solutions. Depression and anxiety often robs us of our foresight. Even for an artist as amazing as Van Gogh, he wrote his brother of feeling like a failure in the end.

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