I wanted to fill you in about my mental illness crusade with the High School Show Choir that sang songs with lyrics that stigmatized mental illness throughout their performance.
On October 5th, I wrote a post titled “Stop Singing Stigmatizing Words” which describes the evening I went to watch a High School Show Choir performance with three other schools from our local area. One of the show choirs sang and danced to songs with many stigmatizing words in them. I heard lyrics with the words crazy, lost my mind, weird and during the very last song they sang “and we’ve gone cuckoo” as they moved their finger in a circular motion near their ear and smiled as if this was funny and cute.
After they were done performing I felt shocked and did not understand how this was art. This is not acceptable in our society today. I was hurt and saddened by this performance. It bothered me a lot.
After the show was over, I looked for the Director so I could speak to him but I couldn’t find him and two of the students said he was probably on the bus. They asked me if they could give him a message and I briefly told them why I wanted to speak to them. I was upset at the time and I am sure they could see that in me as I couldn’t magically turn that hurt and pain off at that time, even though I tried to forget about it. I couldn’t.
I heard it. I saw it. It hurt me. It bothered me a lot. I am a mental illness advocate and there is absolutely no way I could let it go without doing something about it. It is my job as a mental illness advocate to try to make a difference in the world and be apart of stopping the stigma of mental illness and also prevent suicides. Maybe being a mental illness advocate will be my trademark. It is my passion, so I hope so.
I couldn’t hear and see what I just witnessed and ignore it. So, I didn’t.
The next day, I called the school and left a message with the Principal explaining briefly what I was calling about. The Principal called me back and I asked him if he was aware of songs his show choir was singing and he was not. I briefly explained what I saw. I asked him if he thought it was acceptable to sing songs about going cuckoo. He answered like a politician and said he didn’t know, because he didn’t see or hear the song, so he couldn’t say.
I wasn’t going to let him get away with a non-answer like that, so I asked, “What would you do if you heard your students calling each other cuckoo?”
He said, “Our students don’t say things like that and I wouldn’t let them say things like that.”
So, I adamantly said, “Well, they are singing it.”
I think he heard enough and I think he understood. He told me he would talk to the director tomorrow. I was happy about that.
Throughout my entire conversation I tried to be as kind as possible explaining that I was only calling to help educate about mental illness stigma and to help his students, his school and the thousands of people who will watch their show over the next five months. I told him there would be other schools, students, parents and people in the audiences that will not be very receptive with the show either. So, I am truly trying to help in many ways.
The Principal must have talked to the director because the next morning I got a call from the director. I explained why I was calling and he said that he was aware of it before because two of his students told him I had talked to them after the show that evening and he said they told him I was actually quite upset.
The director continued to explain how it bothered him that someone was upset after watching his show because of course he never wants that to happen. He said he lost sleep over it and said it was never his intention to sing songs about mental illness.
When I explained that the worst song was his ending number “Cuckoo” by Adam Lambert, he asked me if I realized the song was about partying and I explained that even if it was there are too many stigmatizing words in that song. Maybe this song is about two things, partying and mental illness. Either way, the song sings about mental illness in a shaming, belittling, hurtful and stigmatizing way.
The director said he even looked up the would cuckoo and could only see the definition of a bird. Now, that is very hard to believe, because I have looked up the word prior to this incident and I know it describes the bird in one definition and also describes cuckoo as crazy, a mad person and a silly or crackbrained person. In the Urban dictionary, the top definition is described as having lost one’s mind, gone cuckoo.
The song even sings about electro-shock and I mentioned that to the Director and his reply was, “You mean they are still doing that?” saying it in an unbelievable shocking type of tone. He caught himself in his manner and tone of his speaking right away, remembering who he was speaking to and changed his tone of disbelief to a more understanding tone.
I explained to him that they still do electroconvulsive therapy treatments on many patients and it is very effective for many people, including me. I have had many ECTs over the last 25 years, too many to even count, and they most likely saved my life. I explained to him that the procedure is not done the way they show it on the movie “One flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
He said it is too late to change his entire show, I told him he could change the stigmatizing words and change some of his actions, like stop twirling their finger around their ear. He said he would do all of these things and would call me in the next two weeks to let me know how things are going. He asked me if I would like to be a part of it and I told him that I would be more than happy to help out and be a part of the process.
He also said that it was too late to change the song “Cuckoo” and he couldn’t call it something different even if they change some of the words in the song. So, in the program they are going to list their song as “Cuckoo” by Adam Lambert, because that is what the song is. He thought it would be important to write something on the program about stigma and I had thought of that too. He asked if I could help him write that and of course I said I would help out in any way that I could. I would love to.
I look forward to hearing back from the director, so I can hear and see what they have done with their performance and I can help out in some or many ways.
It would be very beautiful, if this negative situation could turn into a very positive, influential, inspirational and educational experience.
This could be a very teachable moment for many young people and many people of all ages.
Let’s continue to take every opportunity to educate about mental illness and stop the stigma of mental illness and the stigma associated with suicide and prevent suicide.
**Warning this song contains some words of profanity**
“Cuckoo” by Adam Lambert (with lyrics)
This song was the last song they sung singing the most stigmatizing words like “crazy train” and “cuckoo” sung many times throughout the song. Of course, they took out the profanity and edited some of it, but most of the words were still in the song. The song does have a great beat and rhythm and I am sure that is why he selected it.
The show ended with the word “cuckoo” stuck in my head… but the director is going to change it up some. I hope it turns out well.
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