Recent figures show that approximately 10% of young people are affected by mental illness. As youth is portrayed as a time when everyone is free and happy, we do not see many famous people speaking about their own struggles and it is not depicted in shows and movies.
This perpetuates the stigma about talking about mental illness. I was delighted to see the movie Silver Linings Playbook depicting mental illness in such a positive way and actually, it is a love story between two people.
The girl is pretty and quirky and the guy is cute, ridiculous and smart all at the same time. It is a very positive portrayal of the fact that we can be a lot more than just one thing. We can have all of those qualities of being young, in love and happy and at the same time struggle with mental illness.
When there is secrecy, there is always shame. Mental illness is not engendered in society as something that is okay to talk about or share experiences of. The fact that there have been negative portrayals of characters suffering from mental illness in fiction and non-fiction throughout history doesn't help. The only time we really hear about somebody suffering from mental health problems in the news is when they have done something awful, for example: a schizophrenia patient who has inflicted harm on themselves or the community. The challenge is to manage the reality of helping people cope with an invisible ailment that many still see as a product of weakness or imagination.
Helping people understand the challenge and impact of mental health is core if we are ever going to reach a place where as a society we are able to recognise the complexities and contradictions as well as the intricacies, banalities and similarities we share with people with mental illness.
As soon as I had seen Silver Linings Playbook, I immediately tweeted to encourage people to go and watch this film. As a psychologist, I am always looking for realistic portrayals of characters with mental illness, rather than just caricatures of illnesses, whether it be bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or some form of depression.
I believe that is what this film was able to achieve. We live in a world of popular culture which shapes our beliefs and attitudes and until popular culture begins to embrace mental illness and portray it in a positive way, we are not going to move forward. In the same way that we had very positive portrayals of gay relationships in the hit sitcom Friends in the 90s or The Cosby Show’s impact on the perception of African American families, Silver Linings Playbook can act as that challenge to wrongly-founded perceptions of those suffering with mental illness.
We can no longer just stand by and let mental illness be ignored. One in four of us will be affected by a mental health problem in any given year. They are as real as a broken arm, and they can have a greater effect on everyday life – even though there is not a sling or cast to show for it.