January 03, 2005

Pop Portrayal of "Madness"

The Washington Times recently published a critical article about pop media's overly-dramatic, unrealistic portrayal of people with mental illness. The article highlights recent films such as "The Aviator" (about Howard Hughes who suffered from OCD), "The Hours" (Virginia Woolf and major depression), and "Me, Myself, and Irene" (protagonist with schizophrenia), as well as TV shows such as ER (Sally Fields appears with rapid-cycling bipolar disorder).

Although Hollywood portrayals have progressed since movies such as "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", which shows frightening and practically torturous methods of "treating" sick patients, mental illness advocates and experts complain that the brief and dramatized portrayals in films and TV shows today send grossly incorrect messages: that mental illness is primarily caused by childhood trauma or upbringing, overbearing parents, or rigid societal labels, that characters need not or cannot take responsibility for their own recovery, or that extremely rare or difficult cases of recovery (such as John Nash's decision to "ignore" his schizophrenia without the help of medication) are more common than they really are.

Advocates encourage all of us to counter such unrealism with our own experiences of reality, sharing and spreading a true but hopeful message about the complexities and complications of living with a mental illness.

Read the full article: "The Film Industry's Mental Problem." Washington Times, Dec 31 2004. http://www.washingtontimes.com


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