April 26, 2010

Author to discuss globalization and mental illness

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Well-known author Ethan Watters will offer insight into mental illness in the United States and how it impacts the rest of the world when he visits Southern Illinois University Carbondale this week.

Watters, the author of the recently released book, “Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche,” will present a lecture at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 29, at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, 1231 Lincoln Drive. A reception and book signing will follow the lecture.

“Ethan Watters has written a thought-provoking book that challenges us to consider ways our nation deals with mental illness in society,” said Matt Baughman, associate director of the Simon Institute. “But it also covers in great detail a more controversial subject, which is how America’s treatment of mental illnesses affects people in other countries.”

Watters said he has been writing about the mental health profession for 20 years.

“I began the trail writing about the recovered memory controversy in the early 1990s,” he said. “That was my first understanding of how the mental health profession could shape core conceptions of the very people it treats. It was that insight that I took to the study of globalization and mental illness.”

Watters said he will talk about the main themes in the book of “how America is homogenizing the expression of mental illness around the world … and discussing the evolution of the book.”

Released in January, Watters’ book is the subject of a profile in New York Times magazine and numerous television interviews. Watters said it took three years and twice around the world to write the book. His travels took him to such destinations as Hong Kong, Sri Lanka, Zanzibar and Japan

“With American audiences I’ve been particularly interested in discussing how Western culture (and the mental health profession) shapes our own beliefs about mental illness, including categories such as PSTD and depression,” Watters said.

Watters also has a connection with SIUC. His grandfather, the late Roscoe Pulliam, was the University’s sixth president, serving from 1935 to 1944. Watters’ uncle and aunt, Robert and Jean Pulliam, live in Makanda.

Watters, who lives in San Francisco with his wife and children, never met his grandfather, but said he has always been proud of his connection with SIUC. He’s visited Carbondale several times, the last time more than 10 years ago, he said.

Watters’ other books include “Urban Tribes,” which looks at the mores of the “never-marrieds,” and co-author of “Making Monsters,” which looks at the recovered memory movement.

“We are delighted to bring the grandson of one of SIU’s most revered leaders to our campus for a dialogue on a difficult topic,” Baughman said. “Regardless of your perspective on the premise of his book, providing an opportunity for students, faculty and the community to hear from someone who has done such extensive research and writing and then provide a forum for discussion on something of great concern to us all should be celebrated. It enriches the educational experience of students and it does a great service to raise awareness of mental health issues in the United States and outside our borders.”

The institute is grateful to Watters’ uncle and aunt, Bob and Jean Pulliam, for recommending and helping coordinate Watters’ visit, Baughman said.

Other event sponsors are Morris Library, the Department of Psychology, School of Social Work, Rehabilitation Institute, Southern Illinois Regional Social Services, and the Jackson County chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

For more information visit www.paulsimoninstitute.org or call 618/453-4009.