Dave's Progress. Chapter 38: The Only Misleading Thing is the Kitchen.

OK, so what the hell am I going on about here? To what, exactly, does my title refer? Well, I'm sorry to keep banging on about it, but it refers once again to the Time to Change campaign, and in particular to the so-called "viral" films which they have released via the internet about schizophrenic illness. I mentioned both these films in my earlier blog "Time to Change? Some Apparently Don't Think So", where I praised them in their attempts to alleviate some of the terrible stigmas which surround the diagnosis.
However, having now watched both films a number of times, there are some points I would like to raise (to see the films for yourself, by the way, simply go to the Time to Change website). The film which I would most like to comment on is the first one on the site, entitled, ominously, "Schizo- He Lives Among Us". It soon becomes clear that the film is attempting to deconstruct some of the long-held prejudices about schizophrenia, at first by playing up to the prejudices, and then dispelling them by showing an apparently "normal" man, Stuart, at home simply making a cup of tea for his friend. As I explained before, after the ominous start to the film, Stuart starts to speak to camera, saying that he is sorry to disappoint in not living up to the mad axe murderer stereotype, and rather has made a good recovery from schizophrenia with the help of family and friends. At this point a young woman walks into the kitchen, where the film is set, and takes the cup of tea Stuart has made for her and then both of them go to sit down at a table in the background to engage in conversation.
As I said in my blog, this approach to tackling the stigma was roundly criticised by one Theodore Dalrymple (made up name) in The Daily Express, who stated that this depiction of schizophrenia was misleading in that many do not recover from the illness and that it is not right to say it is like any other disease. I said in my blog that I thoroughly disagreed with Mr. Dalrymple, but on further viewings, I have to say that I do have something of a problem with the film, and it is not to do with its depiction of Stuart and his illness, after all he is a real person with a real diagnosis, but rather to do with the "setting" of the film.
I think I remarked in my blog that the kitchen in which Stuart was serving his tea seemed "resoundingly upper middle-class", and this is where my complaint begins. Where, exactly, and to put it simply, did Stuart get the money from to live in such a swanky place? I know, for a fact, that many of those suffering from schizophrenia remain economically poor and unproductive. According to Professor Graham Thornicroft something like 75% of people with psychotic disorders remain unemployed. Not only this, but the immediate environment of people with such illnesses can often be chaotic. When in the throes of illness, such quotidian things as self-care and keeping your immediate domestic environment in order go out of the window. OK, there must be exceptions, and I would class myself as one of them, but I am exactly that, an exception. So why would the Time to Change film seemingly present a, not exactly misleading, but perhaps cosy version of mental ill health.
We often come up against this dilemma at The Media Action Group for Mental Health, where the need to portray positive representations of mental illness in the face of overwhelming stigma can often outweigh the very nature of the illnesses themselves, which, when experienced, are not at all pleasant. Indeed, in the Time to Change film, Stuart is well dressed and the kitchen, as I have said, is perhaps just that little bit too well maintained and expensive. So is it now that not only do we have to appear "normal", whatever that may mean, but also on an economic parity when this is simply not the case? Indeed, when I think about it, some of the Time to Change posters seem to play up to a sort of excessive middle-class normality, as if the stigmatized somehow have to forsake their individuality in order to be accepted by what the sociologist Erving Goffman called "the normals". Is this really what we want to combat stigma, or should we just accept the reality for what it is and hope, somehow, that attitudes will change anyway?
All of this reminds me somewhat of another great programme for change, that to do with race in America. During the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's, there were various arguments and disagreements about how to go about achieving equality. These came mostly to a head with the disagreements between W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington and were summed up in an argument between Richard Wright and Zora Neale Hurston. To put it simply, some wanted to retain aspects of African-American working-class culture, whereas others saw this as unproductive in the light of portraying African-Americans in a more positive light to the larger white majority. The only problem was, that much of the African cultural heritage may have been lost were it not for people like Hurston portraying it in her novels. Richard Wright, though, said that these were merely "quaint aspects" of African-American identity and should be put on the back burner in the light of the need for the drive for upward social mobility.
It would seem, then, that those of us in the process of trying to eliminate stigma around mental health have difficult questions to face. Is it that, for instance, by ignoring certain realities we gain popular approval? Or in doing so, do we become just mere pseudo-propagandists, just perpetrators of another myth, only a "positive" one, which would seem to conform to all our middle-class notions of what "normality" is?
I, myself, see no easy answer to these questions and, perhaps, am going slightly over the top. After all, the majority of what the Time to Change films represent I agree with wholeheartedly, and, indeed, the only misleading thing is the kitchen. You, no doubt, can make up your own mind.
That's all for now from your normal, average, paranoid and delusional man.


klahanie said…
Dear David,
Once again, a very informative and highly detailed perspective.
I can relate to what you have alluded to within this posting.
Because you have pretty much stated most points that I had thought of myself; I shall just state that, the
Time to Change' videos give a reasonable portrayal of mental health concerns. What I slightly struggle with is that they go on a bit of an assumption that so-called 'normal' folks may still be basing their perceptions on the usual stereotypes on mental ill health.
Well, through the feedback on my blog and my encounters with 'Joe Public'; I am somewhat heartened to see a more positive response.
Oh yeah, I wish I could afford a kitchen like that.
With respect, Gary.
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thanks for your comment and also your own blog about the Local People, Local Lives project, and in particular your very warm and encouraging comments about the rest of the team, i.e. Amanda, John, Helen, and, of course, me.
Besides that, I'm glad that you have noted a more positive response from "Joe Public" than is often thought to be the case. After all, we have to take all these things into consideration when we begin to produce our own anti-stigma materials for the Local Lives campaign.
Thanking you once again for your support and involvement,
Yours With Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Dear David,
I can better relate, to what you've said, with your comparison of the Races in American's history. Thank you for that.

I find that (often) the upper realm of wealth begins experiencing a problem, and to cover their tales, everyone is suddenly invited to 'attend'. First and foremost, the invitees must be 'elevated' to status quo.

Not to offend, but once the wealthy experience the 'crazies', it's "Ollie, Ollie, Oxenfree" for the rest of us. (sorry)

Excellent article; now whom do I see for my cheque to build an 'appropriate' kitchen?!

Happy Autumn; oh, a brief note concerning the photo: so very cute.
David said…
Dear dc,
Thankyou for your warm and erudite comment. I sometimes worry that my blogs are too parochial (for want of a better word) so it is nice to know that the examples I give enable you to "get it".
As for the photo, yes I suppose it is cute. If only things were like that now!
Yours with Very Best Wishes,
dcrelief said…
Post script:

Thank you David for following my blog!

Kindness, gratitude and respect,

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