Dave's Progress. Chapter 35: Time to Change? Some Apparently Don't Think So.

When I say, "Time to Change", I am referring to the new national anti-stigma campaign going on in the UK at the moment. Many of you may have not heard of it, but there have been adverts on TV, and indeed, millions of pounds is being spent on this attempt to reduce the stigma surrounding mental ill health. The campaign has also been endorsed by celebrities who have themselves experienced mental ill health, from Stephen Fry to Ruby Wax and even Alistair Campbell (yuk!). Only recently the campaign put two new films on its internet sight dealing with the misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding schizophrenic illness. And here, obviously, is where things began to get a little sticky. One mention of "that word" and it seems many begin to get the heebie jeebies. The veil comes down, the stereotypes kick in, and people are generally scared to death.
The films themselves actually try to deal with these fears though, and defuse them. In the first film, it starts like a horror movie, with foreboding music and the appearance of the title- "Schizo- He is Among Us". However, the film then cuts to a very normal scene of an apparently "ordinary" bloke standing in what appears to be a resoundingly upper middle-class kitchen, being handed a cup of tea. The man looks at the camera and says, "sorry to disappoint you" and then goes on to say that his name is Stuart and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia twelve years ago and that it has been down to his close support from family and friends that he has made a successful recovery. Similarly, in the second film, the film begins in a scary fashion, as we hear some children off-screen screaming intermittently. What's happening? Are the children in peril? No. As the camera pans around to enter the room, we see Stuart again, the children's screams and this time laughter coming as he intermittently reveals to them a balloon sculpture. So, it's all harmless fun in the end, and it is perhaps an important point to make, because as I revealed in a previous blog, people sometimes fear, unwarrantably, for their children when in the presence of those with mental ill health. So, to my mind, this was all fair and good, at least some attempt to dismantle the strongly held discriminatory views of many when it comes to schizophrenia.
But then, out of the blue, comes Theodore Dalrymple. Who is Theodore Dalrymple? you might ask. Well, he wrote an article in The Daily Express saying that the films Time to Change had made were simply misleading, that the outcomes of schizophrenic illness vary and it is wrong to make out it is just like any other disease. Being a prison doctor he probably sees the more, I have to say statistically slight, unmanageable cases of the illness and this, surely, has tainted his view. In my view people with the illness to that severity should not even be in prison, anyway, and should be being properly cared for in hospital. The guy's real name isn't Theodore Dalrymple either, the author seeming to lack the courage to print his real name.
So, Time to Change hit back, issuing their own rebuttal of Dalrymple's opinions and inviting others to write to the Daily Express and do the same. So, we at the Media Action Group for Mental Health willingly obliged, saying that while outcomes of schizophrenic illness do vary, a great many do recover and go on to lead normal lives. Stuart was a real person with a real diagnosis and as such the film was not misleading anyone.
Then again, after the Time to Change campaign released an article by Dr. Peter Byrne entitled, "A Century of Negative Movie Stereotypes of Mental Illness", the press hit back, this time in an article in the supposedly liberal Guardian, in which part of the title read, "Why Chippy Shrinks Should Leave the Movies Alone". This was in direct response to Dr. Byrne's article in which the main thrust was that "popular films (are) a reservoir of prejudice that perpetuate damaging stereotypes of people with mental illness". In the Guardian article the argument was that the movies do misrepresent mental illness, but in a positive way. Personally, although I disagree with some of the Time to Change article, I cannot say that the Guardian was right in printing what appeared to be a diametrically opposing argument. Surely, with films where there seems to be a constant confusion between the terms psychotic and psychopathic, and where the overall representation of schizophrenia seems to be one of a split personality (an enduring and entirely wrong stereotype) we can say that they do indeed negatively misrepresent mental ill health. At the end of the guardian article, it states that more accurate depictions of mental health would only result in bringing out "more of the misery, dreariness and sheer boredom" that so many conditions involve. This may well be the case, but this doesn't stop the media from sensationalising and brutalising the meaning of mental illness by continually pandering to the statistically slight element of violence which it involves. Indeed, I myself wrote once that mental illness is perhaps too banal to report in its entirety. Many mental illnesses, I have to admit, can seem like selfish diseases, where the onus is constantly on me,me,me- a pernicious sort of solipsism. That's why you never really get the truth of it, because it just lacks the juiciness of all this violence.
As if this weren't enough, I heard Martin Amis recently suggest, in that acid, monotone drawl that he calls a voice, that radical Islamic jihadists were somehow attractive to, and were able to recruit, in his words, "every burgeoning schizophrenic". This comment indeed made those with the diagnosis out to be a somewhat lesser form of life. Now I may have experienced what is commonly called "schizophrenia", but at no point did I feel like strapping bombs to my chest and blowing things up.
So, where does this all come from? It would seem that we have only just raised our heads above the parapet to present a more honest and truthful representation of mental ill health, only to have our heads unceremoniously shot at. And we have to remember that these are not stupid people we are talking about- a doctor, a (liberal?) journalist and a respected author- all seemingly reticent in condoning what was a relatively mild attempt to reduce stigma.
So, time to change? Apparently some don't think so.
That's all for now from your normal, average, paranoid and delusional man.


klahanie said…
Dear David.
Thanks again for yet another highly informative and thought provoking article.
As we both know, and many others know, we have some ways to go in redressing the balance when it comes to this unfair, bordering on hysterical reaction, that has been portrayed in the media through the sensationalising of the stigma through, at times, outlandish media reporting. Buy hey, it's what sells.
Then again, it would be kinda' nice if the media did a 'sensational' article on someone who has challenged their mental health concerns and was living their life as best they could.
'Time to change'? The removal of the unfair stigma attached to mental health concerns, continues.
Thanks for this posting, Dave.
With respect, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your comment.
No need really to say what we both alreday know- that some attitudes out there do seem truly hysterical, fed as ever by a sensationalising media.
Anyway, I shall see you Monday in our continued quest to redress the balance.
And thankyou also for your recent call and concern for my health- I do hope that all went well with Nat and Emma as I think I forgot to ask when I spoke to you.
Yours with much Respec'
dcrelief said…
I always enjoy reading your articles.
In my country I have seen recent television commercials 'for change'. I think of England, as your country leads the way.
In peace and respect.
David said…
Dear dc,
Glad to know that you continue to enjoy my blog. In fact, I think my blog enjoys you back, as your warm comments are always welcome.
Glad also that you think highly of "Old Blighty", although I'm sure many would disagree, and that's us who live here!
Still, the "special relationship" between our countries seems still to be going strong and, hopefully, is reflected through our own little blog-land freindship.
Yours with Very Best Wishes,

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