What does mental illness look like?

Recently I received an email from a neighbor passing along some info from our condominium Board meeting. She ended the email by saying that she’d heard I was working with an orchestra that serves mentally ill people, and she praised me for “working with that population.” She said, “it must be a challenge.”

Ouch. That stung a little bit. I mean, really… “that population” and “it must be a challenge“? I decided this was a teachable moment. I responded by saying, “Yes, I am a co-founder of Me2/Orchestra and many of our members have mental health issues. I suppose it’s a role I’m comfortable with because I consider myself a member of ‘that population’, dealing with mental health issues myself.”

That should get the message across nicely, I thought. Now she’ll understand that mental health issues cover a broad range of symptoms and severity, so maybe she’ll re-think her comment about “that population” being “a challenge”. Instead, she responded with another message saying:

“Well, I’m quite surprised to hear this. I never thought of you as being someone with a mental illness.”

Could this person have a mental health issue?


Lots of people think they know mental illness when they see it, but it’s just not always that obvious. We live in a world where 1 in 5 people will experience mental illness during their lifetime. If you think your neighbors are immune because they have good jobs and nice clothes, then think again.

Anyone who visits a Me2/Orchestra rehearsal can experience this reality first-hand just by looking around the room. I guarantee they won’t be able to tell the difference between those with and without mental illnesses. What they will see is a room full of musicians modeling an ideal world where people acknowledge and accept each others’ differences with kindness, patience, and support. They will also hear some exceptional music, much of it written by composers who were tormented by mental health issues during their own lives.

Caroline Whiddon
Executive Director, Me2/Orchestra