Last night I was watching Law & Order: Special Victim Unit (SVU). I really like this show usually but last night I was tremendously let down.
The episode in question was about a mother, Janice, who was possibly going to hurt her child, April, but they couldn’t locate either. After locating Janice’s car at a park the detectives checked all the areas were spiders could be found since Janice is a spider specialist at one of the local museums. Janice was found in a cave with an empty baby car seat.
When the detectives asked Janice where April was she responded that she was not Janice but that her name was Tammy. Tammy was taken back to the police station where the male detective began to belittle her while the female detective tried to get Tammy’s help (the male detective thinks DID is a lie). Tammy revealed that Bert had taken April. The male detective, getting tired of Tammy’s, “games” began yelling at her. Tammy then slapped him across the face and began yelling with a Russian accent which from earlier in the show we found out her name is Petra.
The criminal psychiatrist came said explained that Janice experiences Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) and that Tammy, Petra, Bert, Dori and Dr. Jung (like Carl Jung) are alters that Janice created to deal with a trauma from childhood.
Janice’s sister, Cass, comes to the rescue, explains that April is her baby, that Janice was looking after April while Cass was in prison for drugs and shows no knowledge of Janice’s DID. Cass confirms physical, emotional, psychological and sexual abuse in their childhood, Dr. Jung (who was present at the time of the conversation) heard the description of the abuse Cass gave and became very upset.
The next day the women’s parents are dead, shot to death in their beds. Bert is blamed but the lawyer wants to prove that Janice has made up her DID to get away with murder. After much provocation Bert presents himself, screaming at the lawyer to leave Janice alone. Janice is deemed not fit for trial by reasons of insanity.
Not long after the detectives find out that the sister’s have been heavily researching DID and are caught pretending to be ill in order to get off safely with the murder of their abusive parents.
So, there are many problems with this episode.
- The male detective believing that Janice is faking DID. This feeds the myth that those with mental illnesses are faking their illness. This seems especially true for DID and even some psychiatrists do not believe this disorder exists.
- I did not mention this in my episode synopsis but the other detectives at various points refer to Janice as a nut job, manic and swap stories about the other “crazies” they’ve encountered. This is discrimination.
- The portrayal of DID as being dangerous. There can be no assumption that an alter might be violent the same way we cannot assume that someone without DID is going to be violent. This again feeds the myth that people with mental illnesses are dangerous.
- The fact that Janice was actually faking DID further enforces the faking myth and serves to make DID illegitimate.
The one silver lining I see in this episode is that it is indirectly showing that psychiatry is not a science but an art. If I speak about mental illness in general, the fact that someone could walk into a psychiatrist office and “act out” symptoms and receive a diagnosis is disturbing and it does happen. See the Rosenhan Experiment as a perfect example! It is this flaw that makes it more difficult for those living with severe emotional stress to be helped and respect.
How many do you believe?
-a mental illness is just an excuse for bad behaviour
-someone with a mental illness can just snap out of it/they’re faking
-people with mental illness are dangerous/violent
-mental illness is caused by the devil or is God’s will
-people with mental illnesses are bad parents
-mental illness is incurable
-people with mental illness should be excluded from society/locked away
-people with mental illness are weak/lack the will power to improve themselves
-a mental illness is not a real disease
-people chose to become addicted
-mental illness does not affect children/teens
-people with mental illnesses are dumb
-people with mental illnesses shouldn’t/can’t work
-mental illness is caused by bad parenting or childhood abuse
What have you heard that is not mentioned on this list (which is not complete by any means)?