February 1, 2013

Shea Wong, a Time to Change bloggerDescribe yourself in 5 words. What do you choose?

Mother.

Wife.

Student.

Friend.

Bipolar?

When I got the call to see if I could do a spot on BBC Radio 4's Today programme talking about bipolar disorder and the media's portrayal of it through TV and films (most notably, the Oscar nominated Silver Linings Playbook), I was excited but worried.

Silver Linings: a portrayal of a man... who happens to be bipolar

I joked to my husband that I talk about being bipolar so much, when I get to the cinema, I just want to watch aliens blow up for two hours, not pay good money to watch my own life. But where Silver Linings excels is its honest and sincere portrayal of a man turning his life around... who happens to be bipolar. Yes, it is a large part of his life, as it was for me when I was first diagnosed nine years ago this April. But with time, I realized that my bipolar was just one small facet of me - it wasn't the totality of my existence.

And yet, to watch some films and TV shows, you'd think being bipolar was a full time job, and a nasty job at that. If you name off the top of your head the biggest films you can think of featuring 'mentally ill' characters, I'll bet Psycho is somewhere on the list, joined by Donnie Darko, or Fight Club - all great films, and all completely disparate from most peoples' lives.

TV and movies usually create an alternate world of mental illness

These sorts of over-the-top portrayals would be fine if there was an equal amount of truthful, nuanced stories about people who have mental health issues. But as TV and movies have by and large created an alternate world of mental illness, where the unhinged villain is the hand that rocks the cradle, or boils a bunny, rather than act as a rational human being who happens to have a mood disorder, society has learned that people like me are to be feared, and while creators of shows have gone a long way in the last few years to counteract this belief, there is still a long way to go.

In a perfect world, no one would bat an eye at a character who happened to have a mental health problem. Unfortunately, we don't yet live in a perfect world, and that is why it is so important for each of us to speak out about our experiences with mental health.

With time and effort we can break down mental health stigma

I know it's difficult - it was weird being on a national radio this morning and knowing that there were probably quite a few people in my academic or social circles who were hearing me talk about my bipolar for the first time. But I know that with time and effort, we in the mental health community can break down the cultural stigma that surrounds these issues.

I've seen it happen on a micro-level with my friends and family as they have learned about, and then embraced my illness, and I know it is achievable on a national level. Time to Change has a wealth of blogs available to read about individuals' struggles and triumphs over their illnesses, and I find that by reading them, I am not only encouraged by their strength, but inspired to go further with my own recovery.

The director said he made the movie for his bipolar son

Silver Linings Playbook director/writer David O Russell has said that he made the movie for his bipolar son, to remind him that “he is part of this world”. When each of us breaks through the stigma of our respective illnesses, I really do believe we reconnect with the world itself, and give hope to the person next to us who may be suffering in silence.

Go see the movie. Take a friend. Talk about it afterwards. Make that connection. Be part of that world.

Silver Linings Playbook trailer

 

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