Demystifying mental illness through poetry

Julie T. Chan
Volunteering, 2007-08 No. 2

The day arced in, thieves of light,
and no one explained themselves.

The differentia was apparent
(Dave Benson, “The Day Arced In”*)

Back in 2000, I was presented with a unique volunteering opportunity: to assist in managing an e-zine– Poetry Sz: demystifying mental illness –which would feature the poetry written by people living with mental illness or mental disorders.

I had the experience of taking care of a relative who was suffering from the acute psychotic phases of schizophrenia a few years earlier. I believe this experience is something extraordinary and valuable, and that other people and families might benefit from my sharing of this knowledge.

In addition, I also love to read poetry, short stories and essays. Plus, the tasks involved in the volunteer work can all be done in my own time and pace, since they are internet-based. So I agreed to do the work. Basically, I help by choosing the poems to be featured, promoting the e-zine, and coordinating with the web designer to publish each issue.

i am possessed
i definitely know now that i am possessed
by my

we all have to pay eventually
for being on the guest-list
(Steven Dalachinsky, “Possessed”*)

Mental illnesses or mental disorders are generally characterized by some combinations of abnormal thoughts, behaviors and emotions. A person suffering from mental illness, for example, could have hallucinations, delusions or mood disorders which are distressing and disabling. These disrupt a person’s functions of daily living. If left untreated, a patient could become psychotic, or could “lose touch with reality.” Schizophrenia, major depression, bi-polar disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, eating disorders are some examples.

Mental disorders are common. According to a major World Health Organization (WHO) report published in 2001, “Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope,” one out of every four people around the world would have experienced mental health problems at some time in their lives, regardless of their age and economic status.

The same report suggests that mental disorders can be treated effectively with better understanding of the various relationships between genetic, biological, social and environmental factors that cause them. However, due to the stigma and discrimination, up to two-thirds of those suffering from them will never seek help.

Poetry Sz aims to educate the public about mental illness by highlighting diverse and excellent work by people who have experienced mental illness, and by showing that in managing their illnesses through effective treatment, they could live a full life and make abundant contributions to society.

No, seriously, why should you
be different for one requiring

a human mirror with hands
and fingertips for eyes

and voice formed of fingerprints?
(Steve Tills, “Helen Keller Series”*)

Poetry conveys the purest thoughts and emotions from the deepest recesses of a person’s soul. Poetry Sz is proud to have been a venue for poets who were just starting out and who went on later to be featured in various literary journals and publications. Indeed, it is heartwarming to know that it has encouraged these new poets in honing their writing talents.

Poetry Sz has also been graced by established poets. There are artists, writers, politicians, film directors, physicians, lawyers, teachers etc featured in the e-zine.

With better understanding of their causes and treatments, mental disorders can be effectively treated. Let us help bring down the barriers to their recovery by removing prejudices and exclusions. Let us do our share and help people living with mental illness lead full, meaningful and abundantly productive lives.

*All poems quoted were previously published in Poetry Sz: demystifying mental illness.

Julie T. Chan is a core team member of

Copyright 2007-2008.


One thought on “Demystifying mental illness through poetry

  1. 10/26/11Hi,I'm interested in hearing more about this. My name is Linda Martin, I'm a US Citizen living in Lake Stevens, WA. And I'm a retired Senior at age 64 who also has Bi-Polor & also Schizo, mental conditions also depression but my doctor has me stable.I am also an Author of a poetry book soon to go to publication. The book's name is: My Forever Rose-A Diary of my secret passion. It is mostly Love Poems.Thank You for Lisening,Linda J. Martin(425) P.S. I'm also looking for a Mission in the Philippines.

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