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Mental Health on TV


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#31

Bungalow Joy

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Posted Sep 29, 2004 @ 3:04 PM

it just really pisses me off how when bipolar characters aren't violent, wacked-out killers on like on Law and Order, the illness gets romanticized into an illness of artists who need to be manic to express themselves blah, blah, blah. It's a mental illness, people. For the most part, it sucks.

Ah, and that's the worst stereotype, that schizophrenia is nothing but a different way of looking at the world. (RD Laing was an asshole.) The only fair screen treatment of mental disease is to have it be a continuing role in a series. Brenda's brother on 6 Feet Under was a pretty good characterization, I thought. Yeah, there was an element of the stereotype, but there was also the uncertainty, the fear, the missed communication, the guilt, the emotional paralysis, the relief, the absence, the fatefulness and oppression, all the unshareable stuff that comes to the family of a schizophrenic.

There's a new study on Alzheimer's that recasts that disease in the same way, that Alzheimer's is simply an altering of perception and actually quite a zen state of mind, more peaceful than wrenching. The study comes as a real comfort to family members. If only one could have a practical acceptance of schizophrenia as such, but the last thing we need is an new amelioration of general ignorance in the first place, on TV or IRL.
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#32

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Posted Sep 29, 2004 @ 5:29 PM

As someone who has non-event specific depression/anxiety, I frankly dislike/loathe mental health related storylines, since almost all of them (I also think Once & Again was an exception to this.) are so badly executed (in terms of writing, not necesarily acting). Frankly, as someone who tends to sometimes be susceptible to what I see/read (ie. a fictional character shows signs of depression, I start to feel sad[or worse]), I don't need the aggravation,stress,etc.
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#33

echopapa

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Posted Sep 29, 2004 @ 9:56 PM

Ah, and that's the worst stereotype, that schizophrenia is nothing but a different way of looking at the world.


Which reminds me of the equally terrible "mopey unhappy conformist person meets wacky zest-for-life non-conformist who makes everything better" storyline. Sure it makes you feel good to write this kind of story, but it also gives people unrealistic expectations. It's difficult enough to be depressed without other people thinking that all you need to do to fix it is to go frolic in the God-damned flowers for a while.
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#34

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Posted Sep 29, 2004 @ 10:37 PM

Interesting to note that the majority of posters here are discussing the topic with reference to their own experience of either having a mental illness themself, or being close to somebody who does. I would like to know what people who have never known anybody with a mental illness or had one themselves, or work in the field, think of all these shows. Do they watch, thinking 'that's rubbish, it's not that way!' or do they just think it's an accurate portrayal.

I was quite annoyed with how one aussie soap, Home and Away, dealt with the depression of a character called Alf. It looked like they might to a halfway decent job of not solving it overnight, until another character died and Alf declared that he was all better, because he realised that there were worse things in life. Hello?! Depression is not just a matter of 'cheering up' or realising your problems aren't bad. It's most often a physiological, not phsychological problem, which requires drugs to correct a chemical problem in your body. Sheez.

I really didn't like how Marissa's suicide attempt was handled on the O.C. The fact she neede to be rescued from a 'crazy asylum' was, in my opinion, really distasteful, and insulting.


clumsy maniac, major WORD. That and the way they handled Oliver's 'fake' suicide was ridiculous, how Marissa didn't agree that it might be a good thing for Oliver to be put on suicide watch for 72 hours... there's a reason for that. But the way they handled Marissa's attempt was pretty shitty, how the Mum was made to be the bad person for wanting her to get some live-in professional care.
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#35

Hanna-Reetta

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Posted Sep 30, 2004 @ 8:54 AM

First off - I have Type II Bipolar and ADD, so I know my way around the mental health care system and mental health care drugs.


Did you watch ER when Abby's bipolar mother and brother were still on the show? I'd like to know how someone who has the condition viewed those episodes. After all, ER is supposed to be a "realistic" show about disease.

Worst portrayal: I can't believe no one has mentioned Ally McBeal's disgusting treatment of patients with Tourette Syndrome, schizophrenics etc. Ally was always half-insane herself, but the way they made a joke out of every disability conceivable was just appalling. A man who thinks he's Santa - oh how I feel the Christmas spirit again after talking to him. A man who wants to build wings and fly and is obsessed with that - let him do it; he builds the wings, he actually manages to fly, and then he dies. Proof positive that you can make your dreams come true. Tourette patients in court, clapping their hands - John Cage whistling with his nose and pouring water. Any difference there? Nah, it's all "comedy" a la David E.Kelley.
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#36

Bungalow Joy

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Posted Sep 30, 2004 @ 3:43 PM

Do they watch, thinking 'that's rubbish, it's not that way!' or do they just think it's an accurate portrayal.

I once described my brother's symptoms to a girl at work--the talking to himself, hearing voices, the fidgeting--and she actually laughed out loud. In fact, she was still half-smiling when I told her he had attempted suicide by plunging a knife in his belly a few times. What she was conjuring in her mind was something like the Three Stooges or Reverend Jim on Taxi, and I'll admit that I could laugh at that too if I were in an sardonic mood, but I've earned the right. Her ignorance felt so unfair.

The problem is there's nothing really to say about it. Doctors don't know why some people become mentally ill, so what can we expect of screenwriters? Only a bit more background and empathy. I laughed my ass off watching Taxi, until it happened to us. Then the whole character became terribly, terribly sad. Good thing Jim was so "wise" about the world, not to mention independently wealthy.
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#37

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Posted Sep 30, 2004 @ 8:49 PM

Re: Abby's mom on ER.

My maternal grandmother had manic depression, and some of what Abby and her mom went through seemed a lot like some of what my mom and her sisters experienced growing up. Remember, this was back in the good old days of the 1950s when the best that could be done was to pretend there wasn't a problem. Whenever Abby talked about having to walk on eggshells around her mom, and how easily things could go all topsy-turvy when mom flipped from manic to withdrawn, it sounded a lot like what my mom has told me. I even gave Abby way more slack than most TWOPers over her grumpiness in the situation.

I felt a deep need to bite David E. Kelley when Ally was prescribed Prozac; he used the old exhausted trope in TV Land that declares all anti-depressants to be the same as horse tranquillizers. Being put on Zoloft finally made the fog lift for me; it didn't turn me into some doped up drone out of Brave New World.
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#38

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Posted Sep 30, 2004 @ 9:17 PM

Same here. I have Borderline Personality Disorder. I was put on Zyprexa and Depakote last week, and I can honestly say that it's the first time I've felt "normal" since I was about twelve years old. The problem with the portrayal of depression or bipolar disorder on television is mainly that it's treated as something one can easily "get over", and that medication will automatically turn someone into a zombie. It's just not true, at least for a lot of people.

I had to send a lot of my friends to a mental health website explaining what BPD is, because all they really understood, thanks to their watching soaps and nighttime dramas and Girl Interrupted, was that BPD was like bipolar disorder on hyperdrive (which is what it can feel like to me at times) and that I should be able to control it, because it was linked to PMS. They certainly don't think that way anymore.

Another thing. Why is PMS treated like a mental disorder in TV-land? There are constant jokes and countless offensive statements about it, used as a blanket statement for women who are having mood swings or exhibiting signs of real mental disorders, especially on sitcoms. Need a joke about why she's so depressed and eating ice cream out of the carton? Why, she must be PMSing. [/sarcasm]
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#39

Alyna Kuirt

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Posted Sep 30, 2004 @ 9:27 PM

Oh, DAMN! Word, Mangetical Anji!! Especially that commercial where the girl has the nerve to want a brownie. "I'd kill for something besides air!" "Oh, yeah, she's menstrual."

Bastards! There are people who like sweets who aren't PMS-ing. AAAAAAUUUUUUGH.

Edited by Alyna Kuirt, Oct 19, 2004 @ 9:14 PM.

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#40

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Posted Sep 30, 2004 @ 11:17 PM

What really bugs me about the portrayal of mental illness on television is when they make it seem as if it's some magical state of wonderful higher consciousness that makes the sufferer more... in touch with the universe of some other such shit.

I've seen this more than once with portrayal of schizophrenics, like last season on Dead Like Me. I think it's similar to the portrayal of mentally challenged people (which can be classified as a mental illness, though I think seem to be separating them here) as being deeper and more wise than people without their condition. Which totally bugs. I mean, it's great that people with whatever mental condition can find ways to cope and that people on shows can recognize that they're not scary and bad or whatever negative stereotype they think they're banishing, but going all the way to the other end of the spectrum can be just as damaging.

Being mentally ill doesn't make one like a magical elf able to have deeper insights.

There is PMDD in the DSM, though I know what you mean, and agree that that isn't what they mean at all.
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#41

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Posted Oct 1, 2004 @ 5:24 AM

I don't think I've ever seen a decent portrayal of an eating disorder on tv. Lots have brought them up, but they're pretty much always treated as something simplistic and "dealt with" within an episode. The least bad one I can think of was on 90210 when the characters were seniors in high school and Kelly spent an episode or two not eating and abusing diet pills. At least they brought it up again a couple weeks later and mentioned she was in an eating disorder support group, acknowledging that the one trip to the ER wasn't the end. Maybe eating disorders should actually join major depression in the "too hard to do well on tv, so we just don't try" category.


Wordy McWord! Wasnít there also an old ep of 90210 where the girls had a slumber party at Brendaís and a very bitchy old friend of Kellyís came? This friend had an eating disorder but by the end of the ep, they had her eating a bowl of ice cream with extra whip cream. WTF?! I donít buy that this girl didnít get anywhere with professional help but one evening of hanging out with Brenda, Kelly, Andrea, and Donna and she was ready to pig out. Puh-lease!
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#42

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Posted Oct 3, 2004 @ 1:55 AM

Interesting to note that the majority of posters here are discussing the topic with reference to their own experience of either having a mental illness themself, or being close to somebody who does. I would like to know what people who have never known anybody with a mental illness or had one themselves, or work in the field, think of all these shows. Do they watch, thinking 'that's rubbish, it's not that way!' or do they just think it's an accurate portrayal.


I believe that the media tells them what to think. The little bouncing black ball following butterflies on commercials is telling the public that they don't need to feel sad. Why wouldn't the conclusion be made that nobody should feel crazy in this world? How could you relate to someone who is "mentally ill" when there is a cloud over your head? Take Prozac, and relate to a happier world.

I was worried about the quoted post because I thought it implied that people "touched" by mental illness would not be able to accurately reply to posts - that their responses would be discounted because they were tainted or something - I believe the poster was hoping for an "unbiased" voice in the crowd. I believe that the media, and our culture, has created an environment that has discounted those most in need of help - the mentally ill. I do not believe that the poster of my quote will find anyone who has not been directly affected by someone who would not be diagnosed as "borderline", or some other garbage term to describe a person who does not conform to societies guideline's.

I hope to see this topic pursued by others, and look forward to it.
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#43

SusanAgain

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Posted Oct 3, 2004 @ 8:13 AM

The problem with the portrayal of depression or bipolar disorder on television is mainly that it's treated as something one can easily "get over", and that medication will automatically turn someone into a zombie. It's just not true, at least for a lot of people

God yes. It can become part of your personality, not just something you get over. After years of dealing with a bipolar disorder, I finally got medication after a serious bought this year. They were a blessing but personally I didn't like taking medicine daily for depression usually mild.
This might not a mental disorder but like someone the media has often made anything less than happy a problem. TV shows don't show people having down days, being sad, anything. I don't know if alcoholism is included in this, but one show that does a decent job of showing it is Rescue Me.
Tommy has be struggling with alcoholism, depression through the entire season.He has tried to stop drinking, lied about it, been destructive, been sad, but he's still going on with life because he has. He went to psychiatrist from work(fire department) on to get handed prescriptions and not much else. He's used women to feel better: His problems have been on going not easily solved.
[ In the beginning, they kept having him "talking" to ghosts, his cousin killed in 9/11, who was living with him and talking back, seeing the ghosts of the victims he didnt save. It wasn't made clear why he was seeing them but it seemed more of plot point, a gimmic, a way for him to deal with his past but I'm glad it stopped. ]

Edited by SusanAgain, Oct 3, 2004 @ 8:14 AM.

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#44

echopapa

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Posted Oct 3, 2004 @ 4:48 PM

I felt a deep need to bite David E. Kelley when Ally was prescribed Prozac; he used the old exhausted trope in TV Land that declares all anti-depressants to be the same as horse tranquillizers.


Note also the TV trope about Ritalin: it's The Smart Pill That Makes You A Dehumanized Genius, Like Dr. Mengele Or Something.
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#45

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Posted Oct 4, 2004 @ 1:32 AM

Note also the TV trope about Ritalin: it's The Smart Pill That Makes You A Dehumanized Genius, Like Dr. Mengele Or Something.


This is get on my last nerve. A friend of mine who was/is rightfully taking Ritalin had a roommate who was stealing pills from her. While it didn't make my 1 friend a genius it did help her in a lot of ways. Her roommate on the other hand seemed to become this scatterbrained, jittering idiot!
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#46

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Posted Oct 4, 2004 @ 10:21 AM

I have no relatives, friends, etc. who would have been diagnosed with a mental health problem - although I do know some women with eating disorders - so I'll try to answer the question of how us with no experience on the matter view mental health on TV.

I think there is very little portrayal of how it feels to have a mental illness, because the disease is usually shown from the perspective of healthy people - and often as something that looks ludicrous or scary. There seems to be little sympathy for people with these problems. The healthy characters speak to them condescendingly, like to children. And there seems to be an attempt to get the "crazy" people out of your life, because they're scary and a potential threat to "normal" people. And as someone said, sometimes mental illness is portrayed as some kind of "higher state of consciousness". That's odd. It sounds like a beautiful idea, but it also sounds pretty condescending - you're not sick, you're special!

I guess I'd deem shows like ER or Six Feet Under as more "accurate" in portraying mental disorders than some comedy or soap opera. It might also have to do with my perception of these shows and their overall level of accuracy. There was a psychiatrist on ER once that called insane ppl "nuts" and seemed to have a pretty condescending attitude on them - I hope that wasn't accurate, because it made me kinda mad.

Re: the attitude on PMS. I think the attitude on PMS has to do with the attitude on women. Women have always been associated with being emotional, not being in control of their feelings and mental states. Men have been thought to be more rational and driven by their brain, not their heart, so to speak. So I think it's an extension of that: PMS, menopause and pregnancy transform a woman into a monster of mood swings, uncontrollable cravings, crying hysterically, etc. because women are not in control of their feelings, and even less so when their hormones are raging. Men also have hormonal cycles, which has been proven by scientists, but I think this info has not reached TVLand yet. It's not strictly related to mental health, but this is how I view the attitude on women's 'hormonal' behaviour on TV.
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#47

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Posted Oct 4, 2004 @ 3:05 PM

You're right about the condescension, Hanna-Reetta. It's the isolating technique. There's always either a cause or a cure, and it's up to the mentally ill to either face it or reach for it, making them--as proper Jeffersonians--ultimately responsible for their own mental illness.

Men also have hormonal cycles, which has been proven by scientists, but I think this info has not reached TVLand yet.

I've read about this. But what would TV dramas and comedies do without men in mid-life crisis?
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#48

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Posted Oct 4, 2004 @ 4:13 PM

The Bipolar/ADD chick is back...

Someone above asked me if I saw the ER bipolar storylines - no, I didn't, but that had more to do with the fact I find ER generally depressing than my feelings on that particular storyline. More power to ANY show that tries to seriously deal with bipolar plotlines. The two most annoying things about portrayals of the illness: 1) understating the effects it has on lives and 2) parodoxically, overstating the effect it has on lives.

Random thoughts on this topic:

-Hated, hated, hated the Ally McBeal/Prozac thing! Taking medicine if you need it does not mean you are weak, it means you are proactively trying to solve a problem using medical science. Geeze, how I hated that episode!

-Just once I want the crazy person to be the red herring on L&O.

-L&O does a good job with their med information. So far I haven't caught them using a drug incorrectly.

-Six Feet Under did a pretty decent portrayal of Billy's schizophrenia, I think. I'd like to know what people who have experience with schizophrenia thought about this.

-There definitely is a correlation between bipolar and intelligence/creativity (I recommend reading Touched with Fire by Kay Redfield Jamison) but I've seen nothing to prove that craziness (a word I use lovingly, as I consider myself one of the crazies) CAUSES creativity. I am totally against romanticizing mental illness. My illness sucks- it has sapped many productive years of my life, it is destructive not constructive. And to keep this on topic - wouldn't the gentleman on Suddenly Susan (I forget his name) be more creative if he hadn't killed himself due to his manic-depression?
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#49

Dreadh

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Posted Oct 4, 2004 @ 5:12 PM

Six Feet Under did a pretty decent portrayal of Billy's schizophrenia, I think. I'd like to know what people who have experience with schizophrenia thought about this. 


I thought that Billy had Bipolar problems not Schizophrenia.
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#50

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Posted Oct 4, 2004 @ 9:42 PM

my pet peeve, with mental ilness on TV is the munchhausen-by-proxy plot device. I've seen it on three different cop shows from different countries. It's always the same scene:

Doctor/forensic psych: have you heard of muchausen's syndrome?
Deyecyive: Why yes! It's when people pretend to be sick in order to get attention.
Doctor: Well, this guy has Munchausen-by-proxy which is where someone makes someone else sick or injures them and then tries to treat the injury.

It'slike the writer heard/read about some whacky mental illness in Psychology today and then used it without checking with a professional.
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#51

Actionmage

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Posted Oct 4, 2004 @ 10:15 PM

Sadly, as a depressive, I let the years of tv viewing almost keep me from getting a helpful corse of action.

I have seen so many tv shows, well-done and researched and not so much. Many are the times folks who are medicated become either happyhappyjoyjoy in a "normal" way or zombieriffic.

My doctor asked me to try 10mg version of a seratonin reuptake inhibitor. I almost refused as I was fairly certain I would "change" and be what others wanted me to be (happier, more like what what "normal" is supposed to act.)

I took the pills for a month, no side effects (amen), and my husband said he could tell a difference after a week.

Which, back to topic, brings to mind another gripe:

Magic meds that "fix" things in the last five minutes, unless the "cure" is the "problem" and the reason for the cautionary tale. Unless I am mistaken, lots of medications for emotional disorders take a couple of weeks, at the earliest, to start showing progress. The movies and shows I've watched mostly do not show the passage of time, which would take a subtitle of " two weeks later/ a month later/ etc."
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#52

Alyna Kuirt

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 3:00 AM

Yeah, and if someone on meds goes off them, there's INSTANTLY, magically, a difference. It doesn't even take the passage of a day for the meds to completely leave their system!
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#53

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 4:47 AM

You're right about the condescension, Hanna-Reetta. It's the isolating technique. There's always either a cause or a cure, and it's up to the mentally ill to either face it or reach for it, making them--as proper Jeffersonians--ultimately responsible for their own mental illness.


That's true. I remember some storylines with mentally ill ppl not wanting to take their meds, and others pretty much treating them like "OK, ruin your life if that's what you wanna do."

There can be side effects to certain kinds of medication - but of course that doesn't work in TV Land, where drugs are magical and always work.

And if you go off your meds? You're an uncontrollable loonatic within five minutes, as Alyna Kuirt pointed out. When you take the meds again, everything changes.
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#54

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 6:39 AM

This is a fascinating topic. I'm another crazy person (we're crawling out of the woodworks, here) and I've always been bothered by the inaccuracy of mental illness in television.

I was absolutely shocked last week (or was it the week before?) when I was watching Scrubs and Heather Graham's character made a "Is the Pope Polish?" sort of joke and said "Do people with trichotillomania compulsively pull out their hair?" I've never heard that mentioned on television before and I literally -- yes, the real sort of literally -- fell off of the couch. I just wish that it had been more than a passing joke, because trich is more common than you'd think, and people could stand to be educated about it.

Out of curiosity, what do some of you think of Monk? I was appalled when the show first debuted and I've always refused to watch it, but I've heard from some people that it's actually not all that offensive. I don't know. I'm just sick of the fact that every time there's a character with OCD on television, he's all cute and normal and functional and just happens to wash his hands six hundred times a day. They make fun of the compulsions, and don't deal with any of the obsessions or the fears that drive them. And besides, those portrayals would have you believe that hand-washing is the only symptom of OCD, and that's hardly the case at all. Personally, I don't give a rats ass if my hands are clean, but if I don't know the exact number of steps from my apartment to the front door, an anvil or something is going to fall on my head. That sounds funny, but I'd like to see a character actually addressing the obsessive part of disorder instead of just showing the cutesy compulsions.
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#55

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 8:36 AM

Just once I want the crazy person to be the red herring on L&O.

I believe there was an episode of SVU, in which a woman chopped off a man's genitals (she'd found out that he was the one who had abducted and raped her) as he was getting off a train. They found the guy's genitals on some man who lived in the subway, and for a while thought he was the culprit. I don't recall the subway dweller's exact mental illness, but I thought making him a red herring was a nice touch on the part of the writers. The detectives eventually realized he couldn't be guilty because he had an extreme, painful aversion to light.
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#56

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 10:32 AM

First off - I have Type II Bipolar and ADD, so I know my way around the mental health care system and mental health care drugs.

This is an awesome thread. I also have Biplar II disorder. I was diagnosed in February and being a woman of color, it's a difficult thing to discuss with people. I have a job that gives me a perfect platform to educate young people on mental disorders. I was watching an episode of Girlfriends (I know) and one of the character's mother had bipolar disorder. I was really excited because Girlfriends is watched in a lot of AFAM households and I thought they were going to have an honest and educational protrayal. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. First of all, they had the character as a overmedicated space cadet. Second of all, if by bipolar they meant schitzophrenic? Then yes she was bipolar. I was so mad! I couldn't believe it. That very night, I went on my site and opened up about my disorder. I'd spoken about my depression at lenght but was scared to give my problem a "name" because of the stigma in the Afam community. The outcry of support and "Me too!" was overwhelming. I did get my fair share of, "That's just the devil, girl. Pray on it!".
I was just so hoping that this popular African American show would use the time to educate a whole bunch of people at once and do away with a great stigma.
There I go looking for TV to "teach something".

This is an awesome thread. Every since I've become aware of my condition and conditions like it, I've seen just how inaccurately mental illness is protrayed on TV. I love Law&Order but as someone pointed out, they are the worst offenders.
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#57

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 1:07 PM

jadeddaisy, I watch Monk regularly, and IMO, (I have to specify that because I don't watch every episode and may have missed something that would make me a liar) Monk has a severe case of OCD. And many, many phobias, including germphobia.

But they are treated as being quite different things; his friends are aware that his OCD isn't part & parcel of the germphobia, but that he has both problems. And while sometimes his illness is treated as a punchline, it seems to me that it's ok when they do this, because they so often show it as the heartbreaking, isolating horror it has visited upon his life. In other words, there truly is humor in everything, and they accept that aspect of it too.

I like Monk a lot. I have OCD myself (luckily, a very mild version of it) & I'm fortunate, because it counteracts the rampant ADD I also have. If it weren't for the OCD, I'd never remember anything or get anything done! :) It's an oddly comforting thing to be able to watch someone on tv whose motives, undoubtedly strange to most others, make perfect sense to me.

My best friend has a case far worse than my own, but nowhere near as bad as Monk's, and she loves the show too.
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#58

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 1:26 PM

Cold Case last Sunday managed to intoduce a character with an unspecified mental illness and not have him be the murderer. It was refreshing, because all the detectives who had met him were sure right away that the guy didn't do it. Plus he gets his job back in the end, which was nice.
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#59

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 3:43 PM

I thought that Billy had Bipolar problems not Schizophrenia.


I went on the Six Feet Under official message board to check this out. I guess they are referring to Billy's illness as being manic-depression but it just didn't seem that way to me. The whole "carve my sister's tattoo off of her body, not to mention my own" smacks of paranoid psychosis, which I associate more with schizophrenia. Bipolar illness can also include psychotic episodes, but mine doesn't, and since my tattoo (and my skin) remains firmly attached to my back, I didn't associate the two. My bad.

Then again, I haven't found one thing yet that conclusively stated that Billy=bipolar. Did they have a schizophrenic character on there too? When I typed in mental illnesses I got a bijillion hits. Can anyone who regularly watches this show weigh in on this?

I just saw the rerun of L&O where the woman puts herself in the coma to implicate the guy she says killed her sister. And it turns out that she might have killed her sister because she was obsessed with that guy? That is one heck of an obsession...

Edited by kitschwitch, Oct 5, 2004 @ 3:44 PM.

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#60

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Posted Oct 5, 2004 @ 3:55 PM

I thought the coma was an accident, an allergic reaction to Demerol. She was definitely obsessed, but I didn't get that they were trying to spin it as her having a mental illness.
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