"You couldn't deliver milk in your state.""You are ill. And I am not giving birth in a graveyard with a mentally unstable nurse.""Get away from me, or I mean it, I will scratch your eyes out.""I guess a crazy, manic nurse is better than no nurse."And I was left with the image that the people we trust to treat us when we're ill are actually frightened by us. Why would anyone seek help?
I tweeted my frustration at this portrayal of mental illness, and also another storyline in the episode where a staff member couldn't even say the word 'bisexual'. And I was met by a barrage of criticism. Apparently Casualty is so popular that its fans, and actors, are passionate enough to follow the #Casualty hashtag on Twitter on a Saturday night and reply to tweets.
Casualty is not the first show to do a mental health storyline and get it wrong; far from it.
And I am so tired of TV characters being terrified of mental illness, of mental health only being portrayed when there's a 'break', of the godforsaken asylum being used as a huge, scary plot device to incite fear in young people. Watching how the negative comments on Casualty from healthcare professionals were not challenged, while I was in a depressive episode myself and already frustrated by people not understanding my illness, was breaking point.
So here's a list of what TV gets wrong about mental illnessPeople with mental illness are dangerous
This is probably the most common way mental illness is currently portrayed on TV and movies. Just look at Norman Bates in Bates Motel (the character from Alfred Hitchcock's movie Psycho as a young man). We keep being told Norman is mentally ill, he refuses to get help, and we watch him black out and murder character after character. The body count is high, and the show, now on its fifth season, links the term 'mental illness' with 'killer' in every episode. Mental illness is not something that should be feared or run away from. We are not all dangerous and trying to kill you. At least, no more so than the rest of the general public. In fact, we are more likely to be victims rather than perpetrators of violence.
|Publicity photo for Bates Motel. Just look at Norman's mentally ill stare.|
Blink and you'll miss it diagnosis
We see this a lot. Mental illness is brought up in a show (yay for inclusion) but the storyline lasts maybe just an episode, six episodes, or a season. There is no further explanation or follow-up, and the reality of the ups and downs of recovery are overlooked. Pretty Little Liars' Hanna revealed she had an eating disorder in Season 1. But it apparently went away on its own, once Hanna became skinny and popular, and is only referred to again when people call a slim teenage girl 'fat' in flashbacks. These are missed opportunities to get it right, and show what living with a mental illness is really like.
Yep, despite modern psychiatry having moved away from not only the word 'asylum', but the very image of confining people with a mental illness, it continues to be used as a trope on TV. Missed it?Look no further than the entire Season 2 of American Horror Story set in an insane asylum (but it at least challenged stigma by portraying a whole cast of characters with mental illness and suggesting hallucinations of aliens and demonic possessions as actually real). Not to mention teen shows like Teen Wolf and Pretty Little Liars where the asylums are somewhere were the bad characters are locked up without any actual diagnoses. But sure, let's keep showing 12-25 years old that we contain bad people in a mental hospital.
Just having a story line about mental health doesn't end the stigma
Other shows, like Degrassi which received a lots of criticism for its portrayal, think its enough to just have a storyline about mental health. As if mentioning the word schizophrenia will somehow remove the stigma. And they expect, and often receive, praise for it. OMG a mental health storyline is o progressive, well done TV. Having a character with a mental illness, or one that attends therapy isn't a good thing if its not done right. You have to challenge perceptions. You have to use your opportunity and your stage to tackle the image of mental illness. You can call your show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in mockery of the 'ex who isn't good with rejection' trope, but when you then decide your main character does have mental illness issues thanks to childhood trauma, it's a bit of an insult. You might want to think of a rename for Season 3.
Healthcare professionals don't understand
I get that this is a true reflection of many people's experiences. You seek help for your mental health only to find healthcare professionals do not understand mental illness and are not be supportive.
|(Photo: National Alliance on Mental Illness)|
Turning your Halloween episode into a mental illness stereotype
Thankfully, this is rare. But you will find some shows, and some events in your area, that think its okay to mock mental illness at Halloween. Look no further than Modern Family, the sitcom based around a regular American family, the Dunphys. The Dunphy family's opinions on mental health, however, aren’t so modern. Their 2015 Halloween episode thought it was a good idea to turn their house into a mock insane asylum. Full of outdated terminology and decades old movie stereotypes, the show was insulting and enraging. But maybe I'm just too sensitive, yeah? Must be my mental illness....
Last weekend I was called easily offended and too politically correct for being angry at how mental illness was portrayed on TV.
Suicide remains one of the most common causes of death in young people. Stigma is alive and well. There is no need to perpetrate it further. It stops people asking for help, getting treatment, and tells them that there are no relapses in recovery.
Is it too much to ask that TV shows portray my illness and other people's illness in a realistic, sensitive, and forward thinking way? Stop saying we're dangerous. Stop pretending this is 1900 and we're all locked up in an asylum. Stop refusing to challenge stereotypes.
But let me also say, you CAN get it right. Thanks you This is Us, Jessica Jones, and you know what? These are actually the only two I can recall. How's that for TVs problem with mental health.