Hollywood and Mental Illness
I am a mother whose son ended his life. He had been ill for too long to have illusions about getting better and all he wanted was peace of mind. Wherever he’d worked, usually for a short period of time at each place, his co-workers viewed him with distrust and embarrassment. Some friends and family members did too. And how did they handle it? By choosing to ignore him … did not take his regular calls, leaving him no option but to end the call or leave a message. Leaving messages for someone suffering from paranoid schizophrenia is problematic. He called often – too often, but he was oh so sick and oh so very lonely, needing sympathy, company and empathy.
The misconceptions about people like my son are many. If he became violent, it was due to frustration and his doctor told us that he would probably only vent his anger on the immediate family who he blamed for all his woes. He worked things out in a mixed up kind of way, of course. He felt that the military knew his every movement because we’d ‘planted microphones’ … his explanation. He was very ill for 16 years but did not do any serious harm to anyone. There was some violence, what his doctors called nothing serious, that showed his pent up frustration re his situation. In spite of saying this, his doctors walked behind David in the hospital. They also sent him home for weekends, knowing full well that we had two teenage daughters at home. If they were afraid of him, why send him home for weekends? They simply could not find the right medication. After all, psychiatry is all about medication nowadays. Oh how I wish it were different. How I wish that there was a more definite way of diagnosing.
We all watch television and know that in general, human beings are pretty violent species. Are we all ill then? Not a day goes by without reading a report of violence. We are afraid of lions and tigers but they only kill or maim when hungry. No so humans. General studies only show a rather faint correlation between violence and mental illness.
If a mentally ill person is taking meds and injects drugs, this can lead to violence. If the same person is not on medication and takes drugs, this often leads to violence too. If a person taking medication due to a mental illness and drinks, he can become violent but if a ‘healthy’ person drinks too much, he knocks his wife and family about and that kind of abuse should not be tolerated either, now should it?
Actually, most people with a mental illness are more likely to hurt themselves or become victims of violence. They are also more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the rest of us.
Hollywood movies and the media spread stories about crazed people. Remember the movie about Hannibal Lecter, a serial killer? Remember the movie Psycho that sensationalized the violent aspects of people with mental illnesses? These portrayals contribute to the public’s perception that anyone with a mental illness is dangerous.
As a result, many members of the public feel that they should all be locked up.