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Tuesday, March 02, 2010

I doubt I'll see the destigmatization of mental illness in my lifetime

I just saw Shutter Island. Not a bad movie - I'll try not to spoil it here - but when the end credits started to roll, I found my heart breaking. Partly, I'm sure, this was due to my seasonal depression. Partly, the subject matter hit close to home (here's a blog I wrote about my mother's bipolar disorder a couple of years ago). But mostly, what I felt was despair at the reactions of many of the other audience members in the cinema.

It was a movie about a mental asylum, so of course, the symptoms of mental illness were depicted, and people laughed at them all too often. Not the kind of nervous laughter you make when you're uncomfortable - that I can understand and appreciate. This was open, look-at-how-funny-these-broken-people-are amusement. Most people have been educated not to laugh at, for example, the spastic walk of someone with cerebral palsy, or the tremors and jerks of someone with Parkinson's disease. It's still, however, apparently pretty acceptable to crack up at the hilarious behavior of crazy people.

I don't know how much of this was due to the movie, and how much was the audience. I think the movie toed the line. Certainly there were some moments when the antics were supposed to be amusing and ironic, and I can forgive the audience for laughing then. Hell, mental patients often have a decent sense of humor, and sometimes even they can laugh at the things they do. But there were other honestly quite tragic moments when I thought, how on earth is it acceptable to laugh at what just happened? Maybe it's because I saw the movie in Philadelphia (I honestly believe Philly moviegoers are among the worst in the world - if they're not talking constantly, they're being shot for talking constantly). Maybe I'm just overly sensitive. It's just a movie, and it was marketed as a thriller-horror. But I walked out of that cinema close to tears. I just don't see the stigma surrounding mental illness going away any time soon.
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