And So It Goes.

Firstly, to anyone who may read this humble, little blog, may I wish a belated Happy Christmas and New Year. The absence of any Christmas or New Year message was entirely due to terminal laziness and apathy on my part!
But, to get to the point, I've recently been involved in some work with the Psychology Department at our local psychiatric hospital, The Harplands. The work has partly involved helping to write leaflets on various aspects of mental ill health in a patient-friendly format. The last leaflet we wrote was on hearing voices.
Although I don't have that much experience of the old auditory hallucinations, I did, at some points in my own journey through mental illness, experience the odd disembodied vocal sound. In my case, the voices I heard were usually familiar to me, being either that of my mother or father, and they were definitely emanating from outside rather than inside my head. For others the experience is entirely different. While I can probably pinpoint the number of times I experienced hearing a voice, which wasn't that many, others sometimes hear a constant babble and find it difficult to shut them out, and can also find that such voices come from inside the head.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, one of the main objectives of writing the leaflets was to demystify such aspects of mental illness, to reduce the fear of them, and thereby hopefully promote a less stigmatising point of view and help those experiencing such things to perhaps not be so anxious about what may be happening. For example, we pointed out that many people hear voices, and perhaps not just those with a diagnosed psychiatric condition. We found that, according to some research, as many as one in ten people may experience auditory hallucinations, not the usually bandied about figure of one in a hundred, which would seem to correlate with the widely accepted, but sometimes disputed, figure for the incidence of schizophrenia.
So, after helping to write this leaflet and, perhaps rightly, feeling very pleased with myself, I went home and watched a film. The thing was, the film in question was called, "The Voices".
I don't exactly know why I ordered this movie through my "Lovefilm" subscription, perhaps knowing in the back of my mind that a mainstream Hollywood film is not going to have the same perspective on voice hearing as us good people who have either experienced it or work with those who have.
Indeed, I wasn't disappointed. Starring Ryan Reynolds as a shy, socially awkward, yet attractive individual, it soon became clear that he was also a loon of the first degree (and I can get away with saying things like that because not only have I been there and got the T-shirt, but also because such representations of mental ill health are so far from the reality that it beggars belief).
The voices of the title come in the form of Reynolds' pet cat and dog, both of whom talk to him, and seem to represent his dual nature, the cat his evil side, and his dog the good. Of course, before we know it, Reynolds has killed a female office workmate, apparently accidentally, but nevertheless takes to keeping her head in his fridge, at which point it (the head) begins to speak to him too. The cat, obviously the harbinger of an almost ancient evil, eggs Reynolds on to kill again, while the dog urges him to be good. Almost portrayed as a hapless victim of his own illness, Reynolds goes on to kill two more female co-workers, both of whom have their heads stored away in his fridge together with his first victim.
This is all done in the manner of a slightly distasteful black comedy. One critic described the tone of the film as "pitch perfect", but I can only say that I was slightly disturbed by its nonchalant tenor. Needles to say, what I found most upsetting was its depiction of someone who hears voices and has a mental illness. Somehow the film makes a link between serial killing and mental ill health and voice hearing. I don't know much about the psychology of serial killers, but I do know that most, if caught, are usually judged to be sane, whereas anyone who reads this blog will know that the link between mental ill health and violence is certainly exaggerated, if not mostly spurious.
As some of you may know, this blog was started as part of an anti-stigma project at the Media Action Group for Mental Health. When it began my enthusiasm for our goal of ridding mental illness of its taboo status abounded. However, after years of slogging away at the same message, and after seeing a film like "The Voices", it's rather as if the wind gets taken out of your sails. The gulf between mainstream beliefs and messages about mental ill health and the truth of it as it is experienced by many, many people becomes all too apparent.
I couldn't help thinking, then, of how one should respond to such things after all this time. It would seem that you could begin to feel somewhat powerless against such a relentless flow of misinformation. I read one review of "The Voices" which stated that it was actually sympathetic towards its main character, showing an inner life which somehow explained his behaviour, but to me, that doesn't really soften the blow of linking schizophrenia (which appears to be what Reynolds' character was suffering from) and voice hearing with such openly misogynistic and murderous behaviour.
I was minded to think, then, of the author Kurt Vonnegut and his great anti-war novel, "Slaughterhouse Five". Partly inspired by the writer's own witnessing of the bombing of Dresden, the only explanation or conclusion that he can reach for what is behind such human actions and horrors is the now famous phrase, "And so it goes". People die. Wars happen. Humanity can be terrible. And so it goes. I think this is how I've begun to view the stigma surrounding mental illness. Mental ill health remains chronically underfunded. People suffer. Some even die unnecessarily early deaths - having a diagnosis of schizophrenia can, statistically speaking, reduce your life by up to 20 years. People who have such problems, though, are often feared, derided, or just figures of fun. And so it goes.      
                                

Comments

klahanie said…
Hi David,

Yes, good sir, I've finally arrived! Apologies for the delay. I note you have formulated another post worthy of a wordsmith.

I have read and reread your post several times. I will leave a brief reaction. It seems that the movie in question distorts the reality behind mental health issues. From your analysis, it does seem to be a rather distasteful black comedy. The balance stills needs to be addressed by the mainstream media in all its forms.

We do have some ways to go in eliminating the unfair stigma that still surrounds mental health concerns.

As you were, David. Thanks for an enlightening post and may I suggest you be a bit more proactive if you want more people reading your important posts.

Cheers,

Gary

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