Seen/Unseen: American Mythos of Madness and Consequences of Stigma

deadline for submissions: 
July 31, 2024
full name / name of organization: 
Kelley Walker/ South Atlantic Modern Language Association

Even today in the age of political correctness and amidst cancel culture censures, people with mental disorders are one of the few social groups still to be consistently misrepresented, ostracized, and demeaned. The social consequences of stigmatization should be studied through autobiographical narrative acts to reveal what it means to live with mental illness in America. By utilizing everyday language and literary tropes, mental illness life narratives humanize portrayals of mental disorder; by doing so, they appeal to the sympathies of broader audiences than medical narratives, such as case studies or examples in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The mission of this panel is to inspire a conversation, to raise awareness about the lived experiences of mental disorder, and to fight the stigma through narrative. The best way to combat prejudiced stereotypes is to tell stories that focus on the person over the disorder.

How and why are stigmatizing myths perpetuated within dominant cultural narratives through American literature and film? What are common stereotypical narratives and images of insanity within American culture? How do these images and tropes negatively influence the identity formation of those with mental disorders? How and why do individual patients experience stigma, diagnosis, and psychiatric treatments in disparate yet predictable ways, depending upon social factors like gender, race, sexuality, and socioeconomic status? How might we work together to end this stigma? The significance of this discussion pertains to numerous interdisciplinary fields, including psychology, sociology, criminal justice, and history; furthermore, this topic encourages intersectional critical analyses to understand the experiences of mental disorder and challenge the stigma.

Potential contributors should submit papers analyzing autobiographical texts from 20th or 21st century American literature and/or film to investigate the cultural mythos of insanity and the consequences of stigma. Please submit 250–500-word abstracts with a brief bio, and A/V requirements to Kelley Gladden Walker ( by July 31, 2024.