AMBER LOVE 07-MAY-2014 It’s Mental Health Month which probably doesn’t mean a whole lot to anyone, not even people who are sufferers of a mental illness nor the people who love them. This is a month of awareness given very little attention despite the worldwide trend of blaming every lone gunman, bomber, knife-wielder case on mental illness. Plus, in my personal non-medical opinion, I’m really skeptical of every bullied kid turning into a mental patient. If you watch American television, every kid that’s been bullied will turn into a psychopath someday. (very slight spoiler about BLACK BOX ahead)
Television brings up another part of the problem when trying to bring awareness to mental illness. First of all, it’s already a profoundly broad discipline of study that lumps together conditions totally unrelated. Then you take fiction into account and you have every single lead character plausibly being identified or unofficially speculated by fans about having mental illness. It’s not only depression, dissociative identity disorder, autism, schizophrenia, sociopathy, psychopathy but don’t forget to add eating disorders, addictions, imposter syndrome and tons of others. We normally only get exposed to the “biggies” that make for good TV drama or news.
Countless characters have battled addictions. So many, it’s not worth delving into as a general post. One of my favorite addicts though was House. In HOUSE, does Dr. Gregory House really have Asperger’s as his best friend on the show pondered or was he just a jerk? Yet on MONK, the obsessive-compulsive disorder and Adrian Monk’s therapy sessions were fundamentals of the stories. Sometimes the mental illness written a plot is done well but every viewer’s experience can be different. I loved MONK but my ex-husband didn’t felt very uncomfortable watching it; he said he was like making fun of someone with a disease and that what was portrayed wasn’t funny at all.
Another of my favorite shows is SCANDAL which only clearly shows the character of Huck as someone with a mental illness. His condition, though unstated as far as I can recall, is PTSD from years of torture he suffered and years of inflicting torture on others. But what about the First Lady Mellie Fitzgerald. She has a deep painful secret that exposes how she was once vulnerable before becoming cold and calculating. Does she also have PTSD or major depressive disorder? Is the President a narcissist as classified by the DSM-5? Perhaps Mama Pope is a real honest to goodness sociopath since she has no remorse about any of her actions and only cares about manipulating everyone she comes into contact with.
Now we have the brand new show BLACK BOX with Caucasian female lead character Dr. Karen Black, a brilliant neurologist who keeps her bipolar disorder a secret from her employer and coworkers. As a lot of critics have pointed out, BLACK BOX glamorizes BPD by the way they have constructed Karen Black. She’s flawed because of an illness but she’s otherwise a sexualized power fantasy. She’s not only hypersexual in her mania phase but, since it’s American television, she’s a thin smoking hot successful doctor too. Hypersexuality was addressed on both HOUSE and MENTAL with very ordinary patients, one was even a woman in her 70s.
I’ll be honest, BLACK BOX is riveting but it shouldn’t be taken seriously as a spotlight on BPD. The show covers mania, depression, narcissism, falsely diagnosed schizophrenia, suicide and suicidal thoughts repeatedly in only the two episodes that have aired so far. There’s some heart to the stories. One woman had hallucinations of a small elf imaginary friend. Treatment “fixed her” but left her completely alone since she had no family and no friends and couldn’t be left to live independently. Dr. Black opted to stop her treatment since it did not significantly improve the patient’s life. It fixed her but left her very depressed and alone. Those sorts of B Plots might play more a role as the show picks up steam and viewers however it’s obvious the rapid cycling mania (hypersexuality, insomnia, histrionics, productivity) and the depression/suicidal tendencies will be the focus.
Dr. Black has her own secrets within her family so the character is struggling constantly to protect her secrets from more than her coworkers; she has misidentified herself with the help of her brother and his wife which will inevitably be revealed and blow up in all their faces. The show does have a leading interracial romantic couple but that seems to be the only sign of diversity in the recurring characters from the first two episodes. I’m also waiting for Vanessa Redgrave’s role as Dr. Black’s therapist to twist into a SIXTH SENSE moment.
Wikipedia already has a big list of fictional characters with mental illnesses so I don’t need to try and reinvent the wheel here. It is important that real people feel represented by the media whether they are not heteronormative, white, lawyers/cops/doctors as seen in so much of television and if reflecting upon the human race means including those with mental illness, I do hope Hollywood tries to approach it with less glamorization.