Media, if you are going to be covering a story that deals with mental health you should do the following (from video):
- Stick to the facts. DO NOT SPECULATE about someone’s mental health being a factor in what you’re reporting unless it’s true.
- Interview someone with a mental health issues to provide a realistic perspective.
- Include contextualizing facts (ie: include that homicides involving people with mental health issues are rare and that they are more likely to be victims).
- Ask a professional. They can tell you more.
- Avoid stereotypes, cliches and sensationalism.
- Mind your language. Do not misuse a diagnosis.
See my “Personal Media” category for pieces I have been involved in.
Will this tv show perpetuate stigma and discrimination? FUCK YES!
If I remember I’ll watch it tonight and let you know.
In the debut episode of the new CBC-TV police drama Cracked, Detective Aidan Black confronts a schizophrenic murderer who has turned his knife on himself. The cop stops him from killing himself by copying him, pulling out his gun and pointing it at his temple.
A real police officer would never actually do this, notes the show’s co-creator Calum de Hartog. He ought to know: He is a real police officer whose job includes talking down potential suicides. De Hartog, a 35-year-old constable with the Toronto Police, works on the Emergency Task Force executing high-risk search warrants and negotiating with the agitated, violent and suicidal. On the set of Cracked, he initially balked at the fanciful scene but has to concede that this is what the medium demands.
“It’s TV,” he says. “I was standoffish to the idea but when I saw it, I said, ‘That’s compelling.’”
The moonlighting de Hartog, a hobbyist filmmaker since his youth who is now both cop and screenwriter, is busy navigating the gap between reality and fiction; so too is Cracked, a show that has to walk a fine line between television’s melodramatic requirements and its own desire to break new ground with a sensitive and realistic depiction of the mentally ill.
Cracked, which premieres Tuesday, follows an emerging pattern in Canadian television to base cop shows on the specialized units of real police forces. From 2008 to 2010, CBC’s The Border, also created by Cracked’s production company White Pine Pictures, was inspired in part by stories from the Canadian Security Intelligence Service and the RCMP; Flashpoint,which recently wrapped up five seasons on CTV, was directly based on the Emergency Task Force, Toronto’s non-paramilitary equivalent of a SWAT team.
Cracked heads into more delicate social territory, however: Inspired by the pairing of officers with psychiatric nurses by Toronto Police, it features a fictional psych-crimes unit in which Black (David Sutcliffe) works with forensic psychiatrist Dr. Daniella Ridley (Stefanie von Pfetten) to solve crimes that involve mental illness. She has the medical knowledge; he’s got the street smarts – and some first-hand experience, too. After years on the SWAT team, Black is suffering from a touch of post-traumatic stress disorder himself.
“Clearly he’s got to be fit for duty; he’s got his wits about him but he’s got an edge,” Sutcliffe says. “He’s a little bit out of control.”
The actor is creating a fictional character who, like Hamlet, may leave you speculating on the nature of the man’s madness, but hearing de Hartog’s story you also have to wonder how much of this is autobiographical.
“Hopefully just a small part,” de Hartog says with a laugh. “Bits and pieces of life become part of it, but he was created for theatrical purposes.”
He adds that the key to avoiding Black’s kind of problem is talking openly about stress to family and friends. Also, he has done an excellent job following the advice of his father, a retired Ottawa police officer who always emphasized the importance of maintaining active interests outside policing.
Creating his first TV series, de Hartog has discovered just how far the medium does have to depart from real life. He arrived at White Pine Pictures with a concept inspired by the psychiatric teams who do front-line work on the streets of Toronto, and was paired with screenwriter Tracey Forbes, who wrote for Flashpoint. She created a fictional psych-crimes unit with an investigative brief so that the series could have a procedural element, a weekly bit of detecting undertaken by a policing team.
On screen, the team is supposed to bring psychological smarts to both policing and detection, recognizing the realities of mental illness, explains von Pfetten, who plays the medical side of the equation in the character of Daniella Ridley.
“It’s very simple,” she says of the doctor’s view of the issue: “This person is not a criminal, this person is sick.”
As a public shocked by cases such as the Ashley Smith prison suicide becomes increasingly aware that law-enforcement agencies need training to deal with the mentally disturbed, the show’s various creators speak passionately about that kind of consciousness-raising. “Without being too melodramatic about it, it’s about creating mental-health awareness not just for front-line professionals but for everybody,” de Hartog says. Still, the demands of drama may mean a disproportionate number of these sick people play criminals rather than victims.
“It’s got heart; it’s very sympathetic to the mentally ill,” says executive producer Peter Raymont, promising that the mentally ill will be represented as victims as well as perpetrators. “We treat the mentally ill as whole people.” He says the writers and producers, who have consulted staff at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for their research, know they have to be both accurate and sensitive in their portrayal of diseases such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or Tourette syndrome to avoid falling into stereotypes of gibbering crazies. As the show evolves, balancing social sensitivity with intense drama may prove difficult without seeming earnest on the one hand or melodramatic on the other: The first episode is deeply sympathetic to the young schizophrenic it portrays, but also makes him responsible for a horrific murder.
Raymont, a documentary filmmaker who created The Border after he interviewed CSIS agents and heard off-the-record stories he could never film, believes TV drama can be a way of exposing the truth behind the headlines. “We said maybe to make a more honest and true portrait of what these people do we need to do a drama,” he says. Still, he also recalls how, as The Border progressed during its three-season run on CBC, it became increasingly easy just to pull out a gun to up the dramatic stakes.
In the aftermath of last month’s Newtown shooting, a crime committed by a young man most assumed to be mentally ill, psychologists pointed out that, statistically, people with mental illness are much more likely to be victims of crime and, if violent, more likely to hurt themselves than others. De Hartog is cagey about the actual situations he encounters on his day job, discreetly pointing out that, in real life, negotiations with potential suicides do not always end happily. It’s only on TV that an erratic gesture from a canny cop is guaranteed to save the day.
Cracked premieres Jan. 8 at 9 p.m. ET, on CBC Television.
I try to not write long posts because I know they can be time consuming but I’ve made an exception.
First of all, as a human being and as someone who works with children, I am horrified by the mass killing of innocent children and adults at Sandy Hook. I send all my love and support to families, friends, the community and anyone else who is being greatly effected by the tragedy.
As much as millions in the USA and around the world will want to know why Adam Lanza killed those children and teachers at Sandy Hook the odds of finding that out are small if not non-existent. When watching the news I can hear the frustration in reporters voices when they say that no one knows why. We thrive on “why”. Knowing why allows us to make sense of things, so we know what the next step will be. What do we do when we don’t know why?
Historically the answers seems to be to blame it on a mental illness. Every time a violent crime happens, mostly the ones where multiple people are murdered, I dread what the media is going to say about that person and rightly so. That person is then said to have a mental illness, usually schizophrenia. Many of us are familiar with the sinking feeling that follows after hearing someone with a mental illness committed a horrible violent crime. It’s not necessarily because we’re upset “one of our own” committed a crime but it is because we know that this stupid person now represent us. That person is now what the public sees as a mental illness.
I skimmed over an article last night in The Huffington Post called Let’s Talk About Mental Health, Not “Evil”. It was written by a social worker which from my personal and research experience does not mean that it’s going to be great. Always with good intention but not always great. What I got out of the blog article was that Sandy Hook is a great opening point for discussing mental health because the how world is listening. if we wait to long, the author says, then it will become irrelevant and we will not have made progress in de-stigmatizing and educating on mental illness.
I commented back with:
“I don’t know how I feel about this.
Everyone I know with a mental health issue, myself included, have been victims of violence, not the perpetrators. We always get lumped into the same category as these horrible killers and that’s not fair. If professionals can go out of their way to say that people with Aspergers are not dangerous I would like the same consideration.
We cannot assume that just because someone does something bad means that there is a mental illness. Having a mental illness doesn’t make you a bad person. There are so many great people who experience mental health issues. Why do the bad people have to represent the group?”
I feel that talking about mental illness after this crime would make it difficult for people to understand that Adam Lanza is in fact an anomaly (sounds strange to use that word in a mental health context) in the mental health community.
The kicker to all of this is that there is no proof that Adam Lanza actually was experiencing a mental illness it’s basically just been assumed that the odds are very high that he experienced one. Other communities be labelled as dangerous such as the Black and Muslim community. You must be dangerous because you are black! No! It’s ridiculous that it can be almost impossible for people to wrap their minds around the fact that it’s the PERSON NOT THE GROUP!
An article in the Toronto Star appeared a few days ago about Adam Lanza and him having Aspergers syndrome. This was one of the few times I had seen experts say that a group is not likely to be violent or commit crimes. What’s even more impressive is probably the speed at which this article was produced. Experts wanted it to be known that individuals with Aspergers are no less likely to commit a crime then those without the syndrome.
The same goes for those with mental illnesses, especially those with schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder (which appeared to be blamed the most). Where are the experts clarifying that the mental health community is no less likely to commit a crime than someone not experiencing a mental illness? Where are the experts to say that individuals experiencing a mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crime? I’m patiently awaiting that article.
What is comes down to is some people just suck. They are not good people and they do bad things. This DOES NOT mean they have a mental illness. I know too many people, including myself, living with various mental health issues, and who are amazing people, to believe for a second that having a mental illness is an indication of violence. On some level I believe that in order to accept that violent crimes are linked to a mental illness would be to believe that people are inherently good which I do not think at all. Some people are evil. Not ill, evil.
With so many different people in the world someone in a marginalized group is bound to commit a crime that horrifies us. In this case it really is a person who just so happens to have a mental illness. It’s not the illness or, and I will step out and say it, if it is the illness it is ONLY THAT PERSON’S EXPERIENCE OF THE ILLNESS!
If I bring this a little closer to home for a second. My friend was murdered January 1st 2008 at the age of 14. The idiot girl who organized and encouraged her murder was labelled in the media as having borderline personality disorder. Avid readers of my blog will know that is my diagnosis. While I believe her lawyers were scrapping for a way to get her sentence reduced, if I imagine for a second that this idiot girl had BPD then her and I would be the perfect example of how a disorder can appear differently in two people. I have never committed a violent crime and would never dream of ending someone’s life. I even work with children and as I said in a previous post, would not think twice about protecting them from harm.
IT IS THE PERSON!
Why couldn’t the positive actions of those experiencing a mental illness be what is seen by the public?
I hope people can see that the actions of one are just of that one person, not of the group.
(Side Question: If you experience Aspergers do you identify as that syndrome being a mental illness? Just curious because I did make them two separate things in this post so I want to make sure what is preferred.)
Recently, actress Cameron Diaz (Charlie’s Angels, Shrek, There’s Something About Mary) stated:
“I think every woman does want to be objectified.”
Research has shown that objectification is extremely harmful to women. Type of “women objectification” into Google Scholar and you will find no shortage of studies that address the issue from a variety of angles.
After reading Diaz’s explanation I feel that she just used the wrong world to describe something I can stand behind.
No one wants to be an object but everyone wants to be appreciated. This obviously does not only include women but men as well. Objectification comes with disrespect whereas appreciation does include respect.
Currently, girls and women’s advocates are placing emphasis on intelligence, athletics, personality etc. instead of physical appearance. Rightly so! A problem with objectification is its sole dependence on one part of a woman and as we have seen that one part can be their physical appearance. But I think there is nothing wrong with wanting to be physically attractive.
Objectification is the wrong word. Objectification is dehumanizing.
Appreciation, for example, is what everyone should not only strive to achieve from others but also strive to give to others. I want to be attractive. I want to walk down the street and have people think I look good. This may be wearing jeans and a t-shirt or a tight fitting dress. I want my physical appearance to be appreciated.
In my 4th year of university I took a sociology course called Images of Inequality in the Media. during the class where we were looking at how women (in particular racialized women) are portrayed in film my professor asked the women in the class, “Raise your hand if you wear make up for yourself.” Many of my female classmates raised their hand. I did not. I knew what he was getting at and I agreed with him. The professor proceeded to tell my classmates that they were lying to themselves. One female classmate tried to fight him on this, saying that makeup makes her feel good and that she would wear make up even if she wasn’t going out that day (therefore she does it for herself). The professor told her that makeup advertisements tell women that buying and wearing their product will make them feel good, make them feel “more like women” and empower us.
I personally acknowledge I used to wear makeup to be attractive to men. I am wearing less make up the past few months because I feel more confident in my appearance. Men don’t usually wear make up on the same scale as women so why should I?
Back to my point though, there is really nothing wrong with make up, with revealing clothing and wanting to be physically attractive. What is wrong is what we believe all of that means. It is that idea the needs to change. We are a society of band aids solutions. It is easier to blame external things such as tight clothing than it is to blame the internal oppressive discourse that is everywhere in our society (I in no way think that both of these things exist independently of each other, they very much help each other along).
Objectification is oppressive and damages women and men. Appreciate someone’s intelligence, athleticism, personality and appearance. We are whole people and we have many great things to offer.
I ran into an issue yesterday involving freedom of speech and mental health.
Recent interactions with people who work and/or teach in the media (print, online, screen etc) has shown me that they would rather have their freedom of speech then promote safety with their language.
Many of us became upset when a particular journalist said that they can understand how saying, “That situation id crazy,” can be offensive but they’re going to say it anyways.
I was horrified and immediately told this person, “I don’t accept that.”
They attempted to draw the contrast between calling a person crazy and a non-person (an idea, a situation, a song etc) crazy are different.
It became very exhausting trying to explain that the reasons why we don’t say nigger or gay or retarded to describe something is because it’s offensive to the people that the word was first applied to.
Fighting, fighting, fighting.
It comes down to respect!
I don’t give a shit if this person chose to use what I feel is sanist language in their everyday life BUT when you come and work with the mental health community on mental health issues leave that language at the door! It wont hurt to not say those things for a few hours! That is respect!
I, and others, found it very rude when we explained that these words are violent and have been used in violence historically and currently and they were still like, “I understand but I’m going to say what I want.”
Where do we draw the line between respecting freedom of speech and respecting a person’s right to safety from violent/hate speech?
These are the people that control the message of mental health….It scares me
Yes, I am one of those awesome ladies! The other is my great friend Lillian!
This is a blog posting from the youth mental health organization we are both a part of, Young Ones, about how we came to speak with CAMH about their Defeat Denial Campaign. Blog post is also by another amazing young woman, J.
Please also check out Young Ones!
“I don’t want society to continue to receive the wrong message or one message about mental health,” Bellows said. “I was worried that if I was reading these ads in a negative way then others would as well, and the outcome could be further stereotyping.” -Kristen
“It felt really great to see such a big organization make a large scale change with advice from the [mental health] community,” Birchall said. “[CAMH] stepped up to take feedback from people who were affected by this campaign, and then delivered on their word.” -Lillian
About a week ago I started watching a new tv series called Perception.
To recap it is a show about a man named Dr. Daniel Pierce who helps the FBI solve cases that involve neurological profiles. He is a professor of neuropsychiatry and experiences paranoid schizophrenia.
One complaint that I have heard about the show is in regards to how schizophrenic hallucinations are portrayed in the series. Having never experienced visual hallucinations I read that to have solid forming hallucinations that you can interact with on the scale that Daniel does is not possible, that is not a schizophrenic hallucination.
This is completely valid and it’s unfortunate that this is being portrayed inaccurately for the sake of the hallucinations working within the show.
There are many good things about this show that I think makes it deserving of a round of applause.
1. Dr. Pierce is a man who has been in hospitals and been at many low points but is able to hold a great job and excel in that job!
2. Dr. Pierce portrays what majority of us are and that is intelligent people that just happen to have a mental health issue.
3. The show talks about how the mentally ill are often imprisoned instead of hospitalized when appropriate.
4. The show touches on the issues with pharmaceutical companies.
5. Dr. Pierce address his issues with medication, about how they made him be who he didn’t want to be. He is not currently on medication.
6. The show portrays mental health in a more positive light, show how we can be very useful people ( like anyone else).
7. Daniel, in some of his classes, addresses amazing issues such as normalcy and reality which challenges the viewer to think about these things for themself.
8. The show also makes a few jokes that I’m sure some of us can relate to. (Our cute jokes between friends)
I think this series shows stuff that it may also not realize. I’m going to watch the second season when it comes out!
If you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say “CAMH’s Defeat Denial campaign” then please take the time to read the above posts for background information!
Yesterday, while walking home from the subway station, I walked by one of the bus stops and saw that the Defeat Denial ads had returned. This was a new ad so I took a picture and sent it to my partners in crime on the issue, Michael and Lillian.
I didn’t make the connection at first but well, here is an excerpt from our meeting notes with CAMH
(From suggestions to improve the ads)
Completely remove the responses we have bolded above and replace them with the phrase from the commercial.
- Example: “Don’t worry. It’s just a phase.” Is it any wonder why 2 out 3 people living with mental illness suffer in silence?
- We feel using this as a response helps to not perpetuate stigma and still allow for critical self-reflection on the part of the viewer.
THAT’S OUR AD!!!!!!!!
I quickly let Lillian know, since it was her idea that I presented!
I emailed the woman from CAMH I spoke with who volunteered the information that it was our idea! I told her that we felt this ad was a great improvement and hoped they would get more positive feedback!
We did it!
We’re very excited (that’s probably and understatement) about this since we had thought we would be met with resistance! For CAMH to actually use our idea shows their commitment to eliminating stigma, educating the public and that they value what we, as people with lived experience, have to say!
THIS IS INCREDIBLE!!!!!
I stumbled across the ending of a show called Perception. It is about a neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Pierce who helps the FBI solve some of their most complex crimes. Dr. Pierce is also a man who experiences schizophrenia and paranoia.
A few days ago I read an article in The Huffington Post that discussed some of the issue the author had with the show and they are all valid and I agree with them.
I am excited to watch the show and see for myself what is going on!
The tail end of the episode that I caught was Dr. Pierce challenging his class about normality. He ended with suggesting that in their quest to help people with neurological diseases (his words) are they not possibly taking away what makes that person unique and who they are? It was great!
Hopefully a more descriptive title comes to mind but if not oh well.
Michael and I have been watching The Wire for a few months now. It is a tv series that ran from 2002-2008 that looked at the drug gangs in Baltimore (from all different perspectives). I realized that night that one character in particular is a great example of how we should write “minority” characters. This character is Omar Little.
Omar Little (played by actor Michael K. Williams, who is also Chalky White in Boardwalk Empire, watch it) is a 28 year old Baltimore man whose job in “The Game” (the drug game) is to rob the drug gangs or their dope and money. He sometimes travels on his own or with a small gang. He is brilliant at knowing when and where to be and how to intimidate people. When he walks through the streets of the projects in Baltimore people yell, “Omar’s coming!” and there is a fair amount of running away. If caught by Omar, who carries a shotgun, people usually willing give up their stash. Sometimes Omar has the stash thrown at him from a window so people don’t have to deal with him. Omar strikes fear into the drug gangs of Baltimore. He does not, I repeat does not, mess with those who are not involved with the drug gangs. Omar does not kill “innocents”. Omar also does not swear, he looks down upon profanity.
Now I need to tell you something else about Omar Little. Omar is gay.
I’m not pointing this out to talk about stereotypes, I’m pointing it out because his sexual orientation plays such a small role in the whole series!
Some of the complaints I have heard about film that looks at topics such as sexual orientation and mental health is that the movie is about those things. If a movie involves a character that is gay then his whole story line is about them being gay. If tv show involves someone with a mental illness then that character is all about their mental illness.
Would this not lead some to believe that people falling into those groups are consumed by that part of themselves? I think so.
A fellow Madvocate, during a presentation we gave in 2011 in New York, commented saying that if films reflected our lives then they would show the character taking their antidepressant and that would be the only time you knew that had a mental illness. This character would go to school/work, go hangout with friends, develop intimate relationships and OH WOW have a live like any other character without a mental illness.
This is exactly Omar Little’s character. You see his partner’s in the show, one of them is actually horribly murdered by the drug gangs to get back at him, and there is homophobia from the drug gangs calling him names like “fag” or making “jokes” about his sexual orientation, but other than that Omar’s story line is that he is a bad ass player in The Game. He has a life that is outside of his sexual orientation, like basically everyone does!
This is how media should be portraying out lives! We are all multidimensional people and if film makers and tv writers want to actually show accurate depictions then they need to start showing that LGBT individuals have large parts of their lives where their sexual orientation/gender do not play a role. They need to start showing that someones mental health status does not always come up in their lives.