The Robert Morris University Dancers ... in Straightjackets


I should not be offended because I'm not "that type" of crazy person. I mean, it's okay to make fun of lunatics in straight jackets who are locked up psychiatric wards because it's not like they are people like me, the not “as crazy," crazy person.

I shouldn't be offended by their gyrations on the gym floor, clad in straight jackets with wild eyes and disheveled hair. Maybe I shouldn't be offended, but I am. In fact I'm twice as offended.

Photo courtesy of Robert Morris University

For the second time, the public has witnessed a dance team's routine involving straight jackets and dance moves emulating stereotypical behaviors of a psychiatric ward patient. For the second time, those who advocate for mental illness should be expected to put on thicker skin and just know that they aren’t dancing about my friends and family, but just the Hollywood stereotype of a mad man. What these teams don’t realize is it’s ignorant and hurtful.

The Robert Morris University Dance Team (pictured above) is the latest example of this ignorance. The team recently won 2nd place in their division doing a "Psych Ward" routine.

Less than 300 miles and two months ago, the cheer team of Waunakee High School donned white straight jackets with "Psych Ward" written boldly on the back and danced to songs such as "I Get Crazy" and "Get Out of Your Mind," one of which even started with maniacal laughter.

These types of stereotypes sting the mental health community. Advocates who fight adversity are met with an uphill battle that is only made only worse by events such as this. It demeans the real experience of those suffering with a mental illness and does nothing to break stereotypes.

It also suggests that mental illness is not a real illness. That it does not measure up to things such as diabetes, heart disease or other long-term illnesses. Mental illness can be a disability like cerebral palsy or Autism, yet you would never see someone perform a cerebral palsy or autism routine with flapping arms and spastic movements. That would be crass and the outcry would be enormous.

So why do people not see that those who take offense to routines such as these do not need to “just lighten up" (as NBC Sports' Rich Chandler stated in response to hearing about the outcry at Waunakee High)?

Why can’t people like Rich look at a set of straight jackets and think about people who have possibly worn them and consider the fact that this illness has victims just like any other, instead of putting the blame onto those who feel offended?

As a nation we should be aware of just how prevalent mental illness is: 1 in every 10 people will suffer from a mental illness. And what this statistic also illustrates is that, at least one girl on each of those dance teams suffers or will suffer from a mental illness.

I'd like to believe it's mostly people's obliviousness to others' struggles that makes them inadvertently discriminatory. However, I'm more inclined to think that there is an underlying second issue; that people still have a lot of fear around mental illnesses. They fear the unknown, they fear the crazies that are shown in the media as dangerous murderers and the fear that their family could be subjected to such a terrible thing too.

These beliefs will only propagate if we let dance routines like these go without notice, without a call to action, without letters to the coaches and principals. Turning a blind eye only serves as a breeding ground for hatred and misinformation.

Mental health patients should not be made light of and their struggles should not be conveyed in a demeaning fashion. This disease strips a person of so much dignity as it is, that it is a disservice to them as human beings to allow for any further assaults to be aimed in their direction.

I know these dance teams did not put together their routines to create a offensive experience for the mental health community. They did so because they did not have the insight to see the insensitivity or the understanding of what it is to suffer from a mental illness.

I am not here to assault them; I simply want to make an example of them. I want to remind people to stop and think about what their actions might mean to others before acting.

Because you never know who that 1 in 10 might be.


Waunakee High School sent an apology letter to a young blogger, Erika, who sent a very heartfelt letter to the coach about her struggles and how she felt discriminated against. They are now working with NAMI of Wisconsin to become more educated about mental illness.

The Robert Morris University Dance Team was sent a beautiful letter by Chrisa Hickey and received a response in mid-March.

Despite multiple requests for an apology, Rich Chandler has not issued any sort of response for his insensitive remarks. I have recently contacted NBC Sports about Rick’s comments and have not heard back from them as of yet.


Stephanie, who blogs under Schwandy at Mommy vs Madness, gives readers a unique & often humorous look at what it's like to raise kids while dealing with her mental illness that arose after the birth of her second child. It's a journey through madness & the mommyhood that makes it all worth it.


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