One thing I have noticed lately is that there seems to be a push by more than a few major media providers in the country to provide more positive stories on mental health. Actor Glenn Close was recently at an international mental health conference in Ottawa. Like many Canadians, her family has been touched by mental illness. Her sister has Bi-polar disorder. Her nephew schizophrenia. Glenn Close and her sister have decided to go public with this, in hopes of raising awareness about the issues with stigma and mental health.
Above: Glenn and Jessie Close in a beautifully moving piece of advocacy
Naturally there has been some media coverage of the former Fatal Attraction star.
I can’t embed the Global National coverage, but here’s a direct link to the video.
The story also made the Globe & Mail who interviewed Glenn.
Do you think the character did damage in terms of increasing stigma?
When I said yes to the script, she was self-destructive rather than psychopathic, so it was a big change for that character. It’s a very difficult thing because it’s very good for the storyline. Movies like that are still being made, where someone who is perceived as being mentally ill becomes frightening and destructive. It’s very hard to portray mental illness in a way that is both entertaining and authentic.
I did like this question, but particular of importance is the last sentence. Movies are entertainment, entertainment to make money. Real mental illness is destructive, painful and at least in my experience not entertaining at all. (Although, hey in Victorian times apparently it was the happening thing to do with the kids on a Sunday). Glenn’s right, an inaccurate portrayal of mental health can be very good for a storyline.
I don’t see a magic bullet here. There is a powerful incentive to do this, although I tend to look at it as a form of lazy writing. Simply put it is a problem of evil. There is evil in this world and we grapple with it. Saying a person is evil because of a mental illness spares us from considering weightier reasons why they may have committed such acts. Not only that, it separates us from them. See they’re evil. They have a mental illness. But I don’t.
Of course that changes IF you are one of the one in five Canadians who does have one.
We see this attitude all the time. Many of history’s greatest monsters, Hitler, Stalin, Mao are viewed as “insane.” And yes they were monsters, but they were (and in fact still are) dangerous monsters because they were human like us and people by the millions followed them.
I don’t foresee Hollywood changing it’s writing habits overnight, especially for the crime dramas and the action flicks. I think that entertainment will continue to trump accuracy, but that is hardly a problem unique to mental health. Still though I hope that we will see more mental health characters that are more than one dimensional negative stereotypes and I dream of a day when one of the cop shows actually has a main character who happens to have a mental illness.
Hey, a man can dream can’t he?
I am more encouraged by the positive coverage I have been seeing as of late in the news media. I do think we need to go a lot further, but it is nice to see quite a few positive articles from a variety of sources discussing some of the real issues that we face.