Geek Girls Rule! #627 – Mental Illness in Media

The way media depict mental illness is problematic at best, and criminal at worst.

I’m struggling with how to begin this, because there are so many problems with it, and some of them are specific to certain illnesses. Some are more general.

I think the biggest misconception about people with mental illness is that we’re non-functional.  We’ve all seen it.  One glaring example is Thor in Endgame, who has “let himself go,” in his grief and depression. When someone is depressed, they eat like crap, don’t bathe, do nothing but sleep, etc… And yes, sometimes depression can manifest like that.  However, for those of us operating with chronic depression, those are just the really bad parts of the illness.  Most of the time, we’re still depressed, but at minimum we manage to carry out day to day functions like work, cooking, the gym, pet care, etc…

Bipolar, anxiety, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Attachment Disorders, Schizophrenia, even Dissociate Identity Disorder, people with all of these conditions hold jobs, raise families, and do everything else that people without these conditions do.

Another misconception that the media promotes is that mental illness is a necessary component of genius, particularly in the creative arts.  This not only romanticizes pathological behaviors, but it down values the efforts of of artists without these conditions.  Yes, certain mental conditions can “help,” in certain endeavors. Certainly, the way Van Gogh’s brain processed the world led to his distinctive painting style, but it also made him cut off part of his ear and send it to someone.

Like anything, the arts take practice, and well, if you have an underlying pathology that makes you more inclined to practice beyond the attention span of most people that can be helpful. It can also lead to the breakdown of your physical and mental health over time.

Next to people with mental conditions or disorders being nonfunctional, or perhaps being tied with it is the perception that people with mental disorders are more inclined to hurt others or commit criminal acts, and this is simply and empirically not true.

People with documented mental conditions, particularly with conditions severe enough to find themselves completely marginalized and living on the edges of society are far more likely to have crimes committed against them than to perpetrate them on others.  However, movies, books and television all depict the mentally ill as just waiting to commit crimes against unsuspecting “normal” people.

This is caused by a couple of different misconceptions.

One is that people who commit crimes in general are mentally ill or “defective” in some way.  This is not true.  The majority of criminals are well within the parameters of mentally healthy as outlined in this society.  They saw their crime as a logical outgrowth of the situation they saw themselves in, and reasonable by the dictates of the life they had led so far.

One example is that people keep saying that white supremacists are mentally ill.  They are not.  They are operating in a framework the rest of us don’t find acceptable, but in a society where the President is calling other countries shitholes, and painting all non-white immigrants as criminals, it is not illogical.

Fucked up, yes.

But not illogical. If you live in a framework where you “know” your skin color, country, ethnicity is superior, acting as if it is, is not “crazy.”  It’s an outgrowth of the culture you’re soaking in.

People who do have mental conditions, particularly if they are symptomatic enough for others to identify them, are frequently targets of crime because “who is going to believe you?”

Basically, the media sucks at depicting mental illness. People with mental illness are neither more naturally creative nor are they more inclined towards criminal activity.  And we need to quit demonizing them.  People with mental conditions of all sorts and causes are more likely to be victimized by criminals than they are to be criminals.

Hopefully this made sense, I got next to no sleep last night thanks to one of my mental conditions, chronic insomnia, and I’m a little out of it right now.

If you like what you read here, or want to help fund my therapy, so much therapy, please consider donating using the link at the top right of the page:  Keep Us Geeking, or checking out my Patreon.  Thank you!

Also, if you’d like to see what sort of fiction I write when left to my own devices, please feel free to check out my fiction Patreon, Nothing Nice Comes Out of My Head.

2 thoughts on “Geek Girls Rule! #627 – Mental Illness in Media

  1. As a bipolar artist, I certainly see a lack of fair representation. I think the best depiction of my disorder was by Claire Danes in Homeland. I recently watched an interview on My Next Guest Needs No Introduction, where both David Letterman and Kanye West talked about their shared disorder. The major problem I had was that West has chosen to remain unmedicated following his interventional treatment. While having “Clang,” an aspect of mania where you compulsively rhyme, is beneficial to his profession, there are plenty of poets and rappers who do not rely on it, and manage also to avoid grandiose delusions. I can function, but only with the aid of a solid regimen of therapy and expensive medication. The uninsured are no where as lucky.

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