Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Mental illness in the movies

In The Guardian, Tim Lott reflects on the portrayal of mental illness in Hollywood.
By the time I reached my mid-20s, the template for mental illness that I had accrued from film, and from Szasz and Laing, was of a heroic, often tortured outsider who held up a mirror to society's ills, and who in some sense acted as a corrective. The idea of real mental illness, in all its sordid meaninglessness, still remained the sole province of Terence Davies by the time I came to experience mental illness for myself - a bout of acute depression in the mid-1980s. I started to read, as depressives like to, Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, and found myself haunted by the romance of my own agonising condition.

The Bell Jar suggested to me that feeling this terrible was proof of how sensitive, poetic and intelligent I was. Yet I was scared: was I headed in the same direction as Plath? Was it my fate to be wired up to an ECT machine and turned into a zombie? I suffered my illness for four years, never allowing myself the possibility of seeing a doctor or taking prescription drugs. Had I taken less notice of Randall McMurphy and more of the pro-drug Nurse Ratched, I might have saved myself a lot of suffering.

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