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Mental Health and the Media

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Coming from a family with various mental health disorders, I find myself captivated by how they are portrayed in television and film. My great grandmother was schizophrenic, and my mother is bipolar. Trying to better understand their conditions, and what role they may play in mine and my children’s lives, was one of the things that drew me to this course. I feel that in the past media, both news and movies and television, have equated mental illness with violence and criminal behavior. While there are certainly some offenders who are mentally ill, there are so many more who aren’t violent or dangerous.

While I don’t remember much of my granny’s behavior, I remember her talking to people who weren’t there and playing musical instruments that only she could hear. I’ve learned from other family members about her inpatient stays at mental hospitals, and how she had periods of lucidity and periods where her disorder controlled her life. Many of the things I saw on the now cancelled television show “Perception” reminded me of things I saw her do. The show presented an adult living his life, including a career, while dealing with the effects of schizophrenia. However, the main character was often aware that what he was seeing wasn’t real, and used his hallucinations to help him rationalize events occurring in his life. Also, his periods of lucidity only seemed to occur when he was medicated. I’m not familiar enough with the disorder to know, but this doesn’t seem to be a completely accurate presentation.

There are other movies and news stories that seem somewhat one sided, but it seems that we are moving into a more enlightened time. For example, Moravec’s article tells of a mentally ill young man who goes from a friendly greeting to being shot in only a few minutes. The situation did not start out as violent encounter, and while the officer followed protocol and made the best of the situation as he knew how, things could have played out differently. Moravec brings to light that the while the mentally ill may become violent they are not necessarily criminally minded, and that specialized training would benefit law enforcement. Training would better equip police officers with skills that might help diffuse someone in a mental health crisis.



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