Volume 24 Issue 3 / March 2020

Illness and Mental Health

Offscreen focuses on films that treat difficult themes often overlooked or treated too superficially, such as mental health, old age and overall illness. Mental illness is too often used as a simple, stereotypical way to code characters as potential ‘violent offenders’, especially in TV crime shows. The assumption created from such representations across many crime shows and films is that people who suffer from mental health issues are more prone to committing violent acts than the general population, which is untrue according to most psychiatric studies which show that most people with mental health issues are NOT violent and for the ones that are there are many other contributing factors to consider. But film and TV shows too often rely on the quick and easy. So if you need to plant the seed of suspicion just have the detective open up a suspect’s vanity chest and show a vial of anti-depressants or psychotropics. And thanks to stigma and misinformation, the audience fills in the rest. This just feeds into a stigma which doctors, caregivers and family members of mental health patients have been fighting for decades. One of the films covered in Daniel Garrett’s opening review, on Infinitely Polar Bear, is one of the Hollywood films which takes a more measured and sensible look at such a character, played by Mark Ruffalo, whose character is bi-polar. My own article of the death of American poet Donald Hall touches on the fragility of old age but also, through Hall’s love and writing on baseball, a detour on the racial issues faced by black baseball player Dock Ellis, who pitched in the 1960s and 1970s. Although I wrote this essay about a year ago, it is interesting to note the lineage of black professional players taking a stance against racism, from Ellis’ (now groundbreaking) battles to fight racism in the 1960s and 1970s, to Colin Kaepernick’s now famous knee-bending incident during the playing of the National Anthem before a football game in 2016. The rest of the articles in this issue deal with (among other things too of course, but to focus on the issue’s theme subject) depression (in Goran Dukic’s Wristcutters: A Love Story), and spiritual and religious malaise in The Rapture (by David Menard) and Humans, Space, Time and Humans (by Jade Tsui-yu Lee). (Donato Totaro, ed.)

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