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The Topic of Mental Health in The C Word in the Hallway by Anna Quindlen

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In her vehement article, ‘The C Word in the Hallway”, Anna Quindlen addresses and exploits the issue of mental health in children and the ignorance that trails behind it. Quindlen utilizes pathos, ethos, and logos as well as multiple accounts of extended metaphors and repetition in order to urge parents, caregivers, and even teenagers to stop undermining the extremities of mental health and to start acknowledging it as a treatable illness. Her use of explicit and straightforward diction and criticism evokes a disappointed and indignant tone, essentially placing the blame on naïve parents.

Quindlen commences her article with, “The saddest phrase I’ve read in a long time is this one: psychological autopsy.” Considering that her work was published in the Newsweek and she is well known for her columns and commentary in The New York Times, this statement alone elicits an emotional response from her audience and aids in her attempt to build credibility. For Quindlen to undoubtedly state that out of all her years of writing and observing, this statement is the most upsetting that she’s heard, carries a lot of weight. Quindlen uses this observation to strengthen her claim that mental health is not being taken as seriously as it should be. Her use of this statement and the outspoken diction that follows it, reveals an upsetting tone directed at the doctors that are trained to find these issues in children. They simply shrug it off and perform psychological autopsies for suicides or homicides that, with proper treatment, could have been prevented. As Quindlen says “it has become commonplace to have…murder suspects with acne problems,” she has a demeaning tone that has now guilted her audience into realizing how normal and nonchalantly mental health is treated at home and at school, calling on them to actively change that.

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To stress the heartbreaking reality of this issue, Quindlen shifts to real life examples in which mental health was neglected and produced appalling results. When including the accounts of the killings performed by Sam Manzie and Kip Kinkel, she substantially makes her audience recognize that these children shouldn’t be held accountable for the crimes that they have committed. Quindlen believes that Manzie and Kinkel were not the perpetrators, but the victims of untreated psychological issues. Quindlen deliberately mentions that both children did receive psychological evaluations before their misdeeds, however due to their parents’ insensitivity, their issues were not thoroughly treated. As she notes this, Quindlen reiterates the need for her audience to truly accept that mental health is necessary for children’s sanity. She particularly refers to the male concern of masculinity in both children and adults. Quindlen mentions, “Kinkel’s father made no secret of his disapproval of therapy… speaks sad volumes about our peculiar standards of masculinity,” and towards the end, “[Boys] still suspect that talk therapy, or even heartfelt talk, is sissified, weak.” By mentioning this, her male readers are inclined to be more cognitive about how they influence each other regarding important topics such as mental health. Quindlen’s use of these accounts appeals emotionally to her audience by instilling fear on them. Quindlen brings awareness to the relevancy of this topic and the common “excuses, excuses” that is said following the mention of mental health in association with homicides and mass shootings. Her candid tone justifies that mental illness is not used as an excuse, but as an underrated condition that could develop into one’s ruin.

Towards the end of her editorial, Quindlen provides her audience with an extended metaphor that truly ties her ideas together. “The most optimistic estimate is that two thirds of these emotionally disturbed children are not getting any treatment. Imagine how we would respond if two thirds of America’s babies were not being immunized.” Because immunization is deemed as important and expected for babies, this comparison allows the audience to finally understand the purpose of Quindlen’s argument and the magnitude and impact that untreated mental illness carries on society. This metaphor directly appeals to the parents of those who are mentally disturbed; a rational parent would never think to send their child out into the world without immunizations. Similarly, a rational parent would not be making the right decision by sending their child into the world without being treated for their mental illness. The logical reasoning behind this analogy fulfills Quindlen’s purpose of bringing awareness to the important, yet overlooked, topic of mental health.

Throughout her cogent and candid article, Quindlen urges the oblivious and naïve parents to stop being ignorant towards the idea of mental illness and to overlook the stigma that is often associated with it. She successfully brings awareness to this issue by audaciously condemning society for its continuous use of the C word in the hallway, crazy. Quindlen casts parents, educators, politicians, and even children, on a course in which change will be implemented and the mental health of society will be top priority. Anna Quindlen’s 1999 feature in Newsweek is indeed still relevant today and has paved the way for the nation to make a change in its approach to mental health.

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