In a recent episode of BBC Radio 4 podcast Seriously called The Mind in the Media, author and mental health advocate Nathan Filer set out to challenge some of the myths and misconceptions about mental illness still rife across contemporary society. Without wanting to be overzealous, I think it’s essential listening for anyone and everyone.
The podcast concerns itself with the stigma surrounding mental illness, which is in large part caused by its portrayal in popular culture and the media: as something scary, dangerous and to be avoided at all costs.
Experiencing mental health issues
Most of us experience mental illness in some form or another at some point in our lives, either firsthand or through a friend or loved one. But one of The Mind in the Media’s main revelations is its thoughtful dissection of the fact that many people’s first contact with mental illness comes from pop culture and the media.
As a result, our understanding is founded on a heavily dramatised and therefore inaccurate representation of mental illness. And while the complexities of mental illness can be daunting to think about, everyone suffers as a result of that inaccuracy.
Where the stigma comes from
Nathan Filer recounts his first contact with mental illness as being through the infamous 1975 film adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Several people interviewed throughout the program discuss its impact as perhaps the most influential and far-reaching representation of mental illness in popular culture.
Early in the podcast, Graham Thornicroft, Professor of Community Psychiatry at King’s College in London, weighs in:
“Often, people have no image of what happens inside a mental hospital. It’s a closed institution, so what you get from film or television is really the majority of your visual knowledge. And [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest] had a profoundly negative effect – [the filmmakers] showed the very worst of the very most sensationalised images.”
He continues, saying, “if people have this stereotype in mind, they might actively avoid going to seek help.”
And why wouldn’t those “sensationalised images” instill fear in the public imagination? They’re still shocking today, over 40 years on from the film’s release. But the images are only images. There’s no reason for anyone to be shocked into silence about mental health. Indeed, Nathan Filer goes on to say that in his many years as a psychiatric nurse, he never once experienced fear or a sense of personal danger in the presence of any of his patients.
“Where did the phrase ‘round the bend’ come from? [It] comes from the fact that when the asylums were built, they were built ‘round the bend’ where nobody could see them.” – Alastair Campbell on The Mind in the Media
We’re fortunate that our society is much more open and receptive to mental health problems than it used to be. Dedicated professionals all across the medical field are working to spread awareness and reduce stigma by opening up the conversation in many areas of public life. But there’s still work to be done.
Opening up the conversation
Stigma is one of the biggest reasons why people don’t speak up when they need help. There are many helpful resources available if you or anyone you know needs to speak to someone. Here are a few:
- Get Immediate Support – beyondblue.org.au
- Getting Help – Black Dog Institute
- Lifeline Australia
We can help
If you’re looking more specifically for a psychologist, Scope Clinical Services is here to help. Located in Cannon Hill, we service nearby Brisbane suburbs like Carina, Murrarie, Morningside and Tingalpa. Get in contact to book an appointment today.
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