Having an open mind about your mind

Post by Hailey Dillon

When presented with the prompt for our final projects in my COM 3 class of finding a hometown issue you want to solve, I knew I wanted to do something about mental illness resources being insufficient and basically nonexistent in Wyoming. However, mental health is a touchy subject for the majority of people. Most people think mental health is just as simple as excluding negative thoughts, thinking and manifesting positively, and being kind to yourself, however, it is much more complex than that. Mental illnesses are under several high stigmas, making people’s opinions on mental illnesses generally one-sided, that being what we just
mentioned. This would make reaching my target stakeholders, people who I want my information to have a positive effect on, difficult. This one-sided thinking has developed and is fueled from a psychological reaction our brain does when we are presented with new information we may not agree with, resulting in our brain chemically reacting the same way we do when we are threatened. This type of reaction can happen with all forms of new information, usually being driven by personal beliefs, religious beliefs, opinions, and of course, stigmas.

Sage green background color with white line art of a head and face with two vines with leaves growing from the top of the head.
Our mental health needs to be nurtured and cared for in order to be healthy and to grow. Image by Hailey Dillon

With there being such strong opinions and stigmas that surround mental illnesses,
people who have a mental illness may disregard their symptoms and force themselves to think they are fine and not seek help. Some will go without seeking help for the entirety of their lives due to the fact that they do not want to be thought less of, as “faking it” or “seeking attention”, too emotional or unstable, because of their illness. This drastically can affect the way that my information reaches my stakeholders and how my hometown issue is potentially resolved or
even considered. So what is the reaction we have to new information where we react the same way we do when we are feeling threatened? The action is called the backfire effect.

Backfiring is basically a mental block you create when you hear new information and this can result in the new information being disregarded completely or the creation of a negative opinion towards it. In the weeks that followed slowly preparing and building my case around my hometown issue, this potential problem worried me. I did not know if I would be able to reach my stakeholders effectively and avoid this effect. But once I learned of this backfiring effect, I was able to
reevaluate the way I would tackle my hometown issue to reach my stakeholders to avoid this issue. Not having an open mind about your mind can dramatically influence the way you acknowledge and seek out resources for mental health, and the comic “You’re Not Going To Believe What I’m About To Tell You,” by The Oatmeal Team, was what enlightened me on the backfire effect and how I was able to evaluate the way to properly reach my stakeholders.

So why should we care about mental health resources lacking in Wyoming? Why do I care about mental health resource availability so much? I care about this issue, my hometown issue because my family has been directly affected by this for years. My mom having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder shortly after I was born, I’ve grown up with the advancing of her illness. Her illness was debilitating at times, dramatically affecting the way our family dynamic was. My mom spent years trying to get her illness under control with numerous types of prescriptions, but ultimately every single one ended up no longer working or doing more harm than good in terms of side effects and physical health. Therapists and the doctor she had in my
hometown only could provide prescriptions and sessions, no further care, so when the only option available in my hometown fell through, we had no other available options and had to seek resources out of state. She now has been able to receive proper testing, proper treatment plans, and has been allowed the opportunity to partake in special treatments, but all of this came at a cost. Not just the physical cost of traveling out of state, the cost of the special treatments, the cost of stay and necessities, her mental state was part of this cost. Going out of state for treatment and having your doctors a minimum of 2 hours away, any form of correct
treatment that can actually help you in a time of need being far away, has been extra stressful and daunting. I wouldn’t change how I grew up and was raised, I wouldn’t change my mom, the thing I would change is the availability of the resources for her. To make the resources more available to her, to eliminate the fear and stress of having a breakdown and not having anyone there to help her who fully understands what her illness entails. Seeing firsthand the benefits of having resources available to her and how much it has helped her since we have sought help out of state, I strongly feel that having resources like it in Wyoming would not only help my mom, but help the hundreds of others that could be in the same situation as her.

The comic from The Oatmeal Team is not only something that has been beneficial for my hometown issue project, but for understanding the way the human mind works and how we accept new information and learn. This comic is something I feel that everyone would benefit from reading because of how much it can enlighten someone and help people with even the simplest of opinionated conversation. The comic begins with a series of facts given, and you are asked to think about how each fact makes you feel. It then states a few more facts, this time more directed towards having the reader be more opinionated and pick a side. The same
question of how this made you feel was asked, this time resulting in a stronger feeling generated. This exercise was done to show how the backfire effect is prevalent even in simple questions. Some of the facts given by people may strongly disagree with where others may strongly agree with it. It then goes on to describe how the backfiring effect came about and how parts of the brain associated with fight or flight and threatening situations light up under MRI when the person is presented with things they may have a strong opinion for or don’t agree with.
So how do I think this impacts my stakeholders, what opinion do I think they would have on this type of physiological block we create? I think my stakeholders would benefit significantly from reading this comic. If they took the time to sit back and ask themselves how they felt with the facts presented as I did, I think that they could have a better understanding of how important it is to have an open mind to begin with, regardless of the topic. Then I feel they would be able to better listen to what I have to say about mental health resources in Wyoming being insufficient. I think my stakeholders will also benefit from this comic’s message in the sense that
the backfiring effect doesn’t always just happen when just being presented with facts, it happens in daily conversation. Some daily conversations can be difficult for some people, whether it be the topic of conversation, the person they are talking with, or just their social abilities. Talking about mental health often falls into the sensitive category, which results in people not feeling comfortable discussing it or anything in relation to it. I think my stakeholders would agree with this, however the goal of presenting this to my stakeholders would be for them to disagree with
it, for them to feel more comfortable and open in discussing mental illnesses. If my stakeholders have a positive attitude on communicating about this topic, they will be better at listening to my information about my hometown issue. My stakeholders have to be comfortable in just simply talking about mental illness before they can reach my goals of fulfilling the lack of mental health
resources in Wyoming, When planning my project, we discussed what our goals were for our final projects including the message we wanted to get across as well what we hoped our stakeholders would do after being presented with the information. My goal for my stakeholders after would be to see the dire need our state is in for better resources for people with mental illnesses, and that they
would begin to request and petition for it. I would hope that our state would reach out to specialists and people who can provide the treatments we need and offer them jobs at our hospitals or other facilities. However these goals are quite drastic in the sense of being fixed immediately, instead I hope that over time or in a few years my goal will begin to be implemented and be pursued. The goal of the comic was to get people to be open-minded and sit back and just listen without opinion, and that is a goal I have come to want for the outcome of my project as well. The comic helped me understand that in order to reach my ultimate goal, I needed to have a goal of reaching my stakeholders in an effective way on a smaller scale of my issue, being open-minded about mental health. My project’s hometown issue is on a larger scale than most other students in my class, and at first that alarmed me when we did activities in class and discussed our projects. But the comic helped me see that there was a smaller aspect that needed to be addressed first in order to continue my project successfully. This comic helped me see the steps I needed to take to reach my stakeholders before I could continue the big idea of my project and reach my goal. This allowed me to better understand the message I wanted to
get across and the way I should formulate that message to be to the point and in a way desperate to emphasize the need.

Sometimes the best things to help you with projects or to collect your ideas, or to fully understand your goals and stakeholders, are not fancy articles or published papers on how to be good at scientific communication. This comic by The Oatmeal was beneficial to me in numerous ways in understanding what I wanted to do with my final project. The backfiring effect has become something I think about and see in daily conversation and has better helped me understand how difficult it can be to get across how deeply you care for a topic and the importance of it for not only yourself but for others to people who may have strong opinionated minds. Sometimes our own minds can create blocks we don’t even know we create, but
understanding how it happens can greatly change the way we take in new information and retain it in a positive manner. Having an open mind about your mind is something I hope people can better understand and become accustomed to, and I hope people can begin to value mental health and the importance of mental illness resources and treatments being accessible to the people of Wyoming through my project presentation.


Hailey is a senior at the University of Wyoming who is taking Scientific Communication to better help her with her future career path in medicine and science. She really enjoys taking naps when she is not doing homework and mac and cheese. 🙂

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