Mental Illness Stigma in the Movies

Blue Jasmine, written and directed by Woody Allen, perpetuates the stigma of the stereotypical crazy person. IMDB classifies it as a Comedy, although my friends (neither of them have a mental illness) and I thought it was extremely depressing. To be fair, there are quite a few rave reviews, but I found nothing funny or enjoyable about it all. Under the movie description, it says “A New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial….” Jasmine is quite a bit more than “troubled.” (Spoiler alert to the end of the paragraph) Her mental decline is rapid, and flashbacks show that she seemed to have some sort of mental illness for quite some time. She even makes light of ECT by calling it “Edison’s Therapy.” She lies to get what she wants, but it ends up backfiring on her. The movie ends with her sitting on a park bench, babbling to herself (it’s mentioned earlier that she was once found talking to herself in public). Jasmine sits next to a woman who looks at her uncomfortably and gets up and walks away.

I suppose I can see how some might see this as a comedy, but from the point of view of a person with bipolar disorder, all I saw was a very disturbing stigmatization of mental illness. If I would have known more about this movie, I would have saved my money. I have enough of this in my own life, and I prefer to be entertained at the movies, not reminded of my own reality (nor have it thrown in my face in the guise of a comedy).

What do you think of mental illness in the movies? Have you seen this movie and have a different opinion? I’d love to read what you have to say about this.

I tried to keep quiet

Dealing with bipolar disorder is difficult, dealing with it during holidays is horrible, dealing with it during attacks on mental illness in the media is seemingly insurmountable. I’ve wanted to keep my mouth shut, not expressed my opinion; but what other purpose is this blog for if not to speak out about mental illness.

Social media, and other forms of media in general, foments fear. There is an onslaught of misinformation, and even when presented with facts, many people choose to believe the rumors. Often, even initial news reports get the facts wrong. In these days of instant information, reporters may be hesitant to take the time to fact-check for fear of coming in second with breaking news.

There is no black and white when it comes to mental illness. People with mental illness are not always dangerous, nor are they always innocuous. Many of us function just fine, for the most part. We hold down jobs, we have loving and intelligent children, we have meaningful relationships. Many do not. Those are the ones that make the news, those are the ones that society decides are the norm. People try, unsuccessfully, to imagine what the mentally ill brain is thinking. Nobody knows for sure but the person whose brain is misfiring.

There are horrific tragedies all over the world that span the limits of time. One can only hope that the majority of people will use these experiences to learn and have intelligent conversations, not to condemn.

I am loved unconditionally by a very kind and “normal” man. I was an office manager until the combination of domestic violence and mental illness trashed my brain. I raised two daughters (who may differ from me in their opinion on whether or not I did it successfully). If I didn’t tell you I have bipolar disorder and PTSD, you wouldn’t know it by interacting with me. I take my meds, go to therapy, and try to be mindful of my behavior. But…yes, I have felt rage; yes, I have been in a psychiatric hospital (numerous times); yes, I have wanted to end my life; yes, I have experienced the depths of depression; yes, I have been manic; yes, I will be like this for the rest of my life. In spite of all that, I can say without a doubt that I will not harm you.