Thankfully, yesterday, a small victory was won for the community of the mentally disabled. It has become far too evident that in our society mental health is seldom given the attention it requires because of the stigma attached to this condition. Although all forms of disability deserve awareness, some disabilities are less visible than others, and therefore require major consideration. It is the elusiveness of mental disorders that fools the public into believing conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, and PTSD, are mere exceptions in an otherwise sane society. However, the reality of the situation, as is often the case, is not quite as it seems.
Recently, our own Isabella Zuppa, in her column “Mad Donna,” opened up about her personal struggle with bipolar disease, showing once again how mental illness can strike close to home and affect friend and foe alike. Isabella points out that society rightfully champions physically disabled people, praising their strength and courage in overcoming challenges day after day, but fails to do the same in the case of mental disability, almost treating it as a modern-day taboo.
The United Nations gives a voice to people like Isabella, and millions more, who are eager to see increased awareness on this subject. In fact, yesterday it held the 12th session of the COSP-CRDP (Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities), centered on addressing the rights of people with disabilities. One of the many conferences held, organized by the Italian Permanent Mission, in collaboration with the Missions of Belarus, Slovakia, and Dominican Republic, it was titled, “Ensuring inclusion of persons with disabilities in a changing world: The role of sports and culture”.
As the title suggests, the issue of representation of people with disabilities, and their accessibility mainly to sports and other cultural initiatives was at the forefront of yesterday’s discussion, with an array of dedicated organizations present. Among the many speakers, Italian actor and filmmaker Dario D’Ambrosi, who spoke on behalf of his organization, “Teatro Patologico,” founded in 1992, and devoted to finding a point of contact between theater and mental illness. Since its inception, D’Ambrosi’s vision has come a long way, providing theater classes and support therapy to the many silent voices that so desperately need it. D’Ambrosi praised the Italian government and how over the years, it has modified its legislation to deal with people afflicted by mental disorders. He cited Law 180, passed in 1978, also known as the “Basaglia Law”– which paved the way for modern psychiatric legislation–as it put an end to asylums and worked toward a more humane solution. As D’Ambrosi stated, his seventeen hundred students are able to live a more serene life through their shared passion for theater, a clear improvement over being locked up in an asylum.
Along with “Teatro Patologico,” other organizations, such as Progetto Filippide and Inter Campus, presented their initiatives, promoting the important role that sports play in stimulating and nourishing youths with both mental and physical disabilities. In Russia, Inter Campus has already set up two sporting facilities for children with autism, and in Rome they have been working with local authorities to start building playgrounds that cater to all children, with and without disabilities, so that no child must relinquish his or her right to play.
For too long people with special needs, in particular those afflicted with mental illness, have struggled to receive the proper attention due to prejudice and discrimination. Things are changing. Initiatives such as the ones presented at the United Nations yesterday, aim to address the issue by using unconventional methods, such as theater and recreational activities, to improve the life of our most vulnerable. As D’Ambrosi reminded us in his closing statement, by helping one disabled child, thousands are being helped: their families, the entire village and the entire country.