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Media and Mental Illness
December 4, 2001
12:04 am
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JenWandM08
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Hello, everyone, my name is Jennifer, and I am a psychology major at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. I am responsible for completing a survey-based investigation for my Sociology of Mental Illness class final project. The topic that I am covering involves the media's role in influencing public perceptions of mental illness and treatment. I decided to chose this forum (internet discussion boards) from which to collect my sample in order to assure anonymity, which could not be granted in a public institution where confidentiality concerns impose limitations. If anyone can help me out, I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks for your cooperation! Here is the survey:

1. Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?
A. If so, what?
B. If not, do you know anyone who has?
2. A. Describe the contribution the media has made in your understanding of mental illness.
B. How does this relate to/contrast with your own experiences with mental illness?
3. A. What do you know about treatment for mental illness? Where did you get your information?
B. How effective do you think treatment is? What do you believe makes treatment “effective”?
C. How much have media depictions influenced your opinion? In what way?
4. **Only answer the following questions if you responded “yes” to question 1.:
A. Have you ever, or are you currently seeking treatment?
B. How did media depictions of mental illness and treatment effectiveness affect your decision to seek treatment?
C. Do you believe the treatment you received, or are currently receiving, has been effective?
D. How accurate do you believe media depictions of mental illness and its treatment are in comparison to your own experiences?

December 17, 2001
12:54 pm
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pillow
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Are you still looking for input or is your project complete?

December 20, 2001
6:43 pm
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philter
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I think you should post this in general threads , I'm sure you would get a better participation result there.

December 22, 2001
11:40 pm
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scherza
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I, too am a graduate student with thesis in progress.... I sympathize. I will help you out! Here goes:

1. Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?
YES

A. If so, what?
Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

B. If not, do you know anyone who has?
I know of others with varying dx's, as well.... My best childhood friend has manic-depressive illness.

2. A. Describe the contribution the media has made in your understanding of mental illness.
My understanding is colored by my education (2 psych degrees) and my experience as a trauma nurse....and as a former psych patient. I am disheartened by how people treat the mentally ill...and by the lack of available services in many places. (Especially rural regions.)
I think that the media sensationalizes the worst parts of mental illness without focusing on the human connection we all have. The hardest part is the false perception that mental illness is voluntary and that "sick people" behave the way they do to intentionally hurt/manipulate someone else. While this may seem true on the surface, there are very deep fundamental human needs that are at work here that create the problem. The media doesn't seem to dig deep enough into the core of this, which perpetuates misunderstanding and patient alienation.

The movie "Nuts" with Barbara Streisand started to dig deeper. The book and movie, "Girl Interrupted" was a good inside snap shot. I love the line that Angelina Jolie says towards the end when being confronted by the protagonist...she gets confronted about her keen abilities to see through other people's issues but not her own...and Jolie says something to the effect that she really WISHES there was someone OUT there that was truly interested enough in her that COULD see through her angry exterior, help her to turn "the mirror" on herself, and break the horrible alienation that she feels. Powerful stuff. I can be like that.

B. How does this relate to/contrast with your own experiences with mental illness?
Mostly, I have felt alienated from society and even most mental health professionals. I was repeatedly abandoned as a child and most of my problems stem from behavioral manifestations arising from deep core beliefs I created at a very young age due to this experience. I do not think that very many mental health professionals, let alone the public watching the media truly understand what is at work here...and how similar my situation is to anyone else losing a mother...except mine volunteered...and I was very young...which complicates things. It is an acceptance and grieving process...my mother is never coming back (and now she is dead, so there is no hope of her ever coming back) and no one is going to take on any responsibility for me...I have to do this myself...which I would have learned while growing up, had I not had this experience...and I am a middle aged woman now.... I have to move on...life is too short. I accept this, even though it really hurts sometimes...and I actively avoid relationships that stir this up in me...there are some things that just aren't fixable. I am very highly functional, though, and I am really good at what I do...and I get the attention and power I need from giving to my society. There is nothing more powerful than love. I have also learned that giving up perceived control over another person has the power of love attached to it...love for me and that other person. Even if it means the end of that relationship and they don't ever get it. Ultimately, in my pain, I really, really get to love and enjoy who I am inspite of my imperfections.

When I refer to the media here, I am also referring to professional journals and protocols. Most people I have tried to get help from squirm at a BPD diagnosis...and their approach to me is alienating and sterile...which perpetuates my problem with feeling abandoned. It took me 20 years to find someone that was truly helpful...and this was after a bout with desperation. I have been able to maintain the boundaries...as she has. She is more of a role model for me. She treats me with respect and as an adult and expects me to behave that way...which lets me be the BEST me I can be...while also hashing out my issues. I really love my therapist as a person (not a lover or a mother or anything else)...and I am VERY comfortable with the professional boundaries...and she doesn't even specialize in my "diagnosis" or have lots of "special training." She just respects me and is interested in helping me with my quest to get myself as healthy as I can...and she is straight up with any concerns she has about me...without hesitating. I also give her permission to be blunt with me about her concerns and I take responsibility for myself and my own actions.

I would never tell my employer about my psych history because I would get fired and lose my professional license...even though I have an excellent work history. My professional board is vigilant about "processing" people like me. Sometimes this "processing" can be very destructive. Actually, they would probably be amazed rather than try to fire me at first...but then the stigma would remain. I expect that they would always wonder if my illness would emerge sometime in the future and then they would probably be quick to "process" me at that point...they are hypervigilant about lawsuits...as most professions are these days...while my other colleagues without any mental illness diagnosis would enjoy more protection and affliation during a time of difficulty. I have walked out of breakroom gossip initiated by frustrated mental health professionals getting laughter from my colleagues about their latest stories...I do not dare speak up at that time.

I do speak out for my mentally ill trauma patients. I will talk to the schizophrenic with the hallucinations on his/her level in an accepting and caring way...without laughing about it in the breakroom. I feel sad when I hear my colleagues laugh at a mentally ill person...sometimes, I will gently ask them, "can you imagine what it must feel like to really see those demons actually coming out of that wall...especially when no one else can?! They are really afraid of something that is really happening for them." Some people refuse to get it...while others will bend some. My last staff meeting ended in jokes about "psych types" because of a rash of holiday suicide attempts. I realize that they need to vent and that humor is their mode of doing this. I only became disturbed when the issue got aimed at the entire mental health field. Some of my colleagues do not know that I have extensive psych training. It even apears that I am "splitting" here...but both sides of this contradiction are true to my experience. I hear mental health professionals laugh about patients and I hear non-MHP's laughing at the entire field...including the therapists...AND I identify with the field to some extent while also having a conflict with it. Whew!

3. A. What do you know about treatment for mental illness? Where did you get your information?
There are various paradigms that have characteristic approaches. ie: psychoanalysis looks into your conscious/subconsciousness and how those issues affect you...dream work, childhood history, etc come into play. Behavioral psych focuses on the ABC's (antecedent behavior consequences) of one's environmental transactions. There is transpersonal analysis. There are medical means for treating mental illness. ie: haldol, MAOI's, and lithium...all of which can have severe side effects and even be fatal. I get my information from journals, textbooks, therapists, and my experiences. I lost a patient last week in the ICU to lithium toxicity, for example. I am vigilant about noticing EPSE's and NMS symptoms...as these can be very fatal if they are missed.

B. How effective do you think treatment is?
Treatment effectiveness varies with each person treated and the primary diagnosis. Issues such as medical compliance, getting a "good match" with a therapist, etc all come into play here.
***What do you believe makes treatment “effective”?
This can be very subjective. Part of it is patient defined. Part of it also depends on quality of life attained. The answer to this question is different for each person. Optimal functioning and quality of life are unique for everyone...even without a diagnosis.

C. How much have media depictions influenced your opinion? In what way?
I don't watch TV, usually...haven't watched it regularly in over 20 years...I find it boring...and I think that medical media have a lot of really great ideas that just aren't fully developed yet for some mental problems...like my issues with BPD. There are some brave souls that have recently been exploring the psychologic sterility of treatment for people diagnosed as having BPD. These are mostly French psychiatrists...that I have seen.

4. **Only answer the following questions if you responded “yes” to question 1.: A. Have you ever, or are you currently seeking treatment? Today, I take care of myself and I have a therapist that I use whenever I get "stuck." I do not use medications.

B. How did media depictions of mental illness and treatment effectiveness affect your decision to seek treatment?
TV & newspaper: Not at all.
Medical media: I am very careful who I trust. I now have a good therapist and she is my "ace in the hole" when I get "stuck."

C. Do you believe the treatment you received, or are currently receiving, has been effective?
My current mental health promotion self-care works for me.

D. How accurate do you believe media depictions of mental illness and its treatment are in comparison to your own experiences?
"Symptom contamination is the rule." I read that somewhere. The DSM-III, I think.
The general media creates caricatures...as it usually does for most things. Problems can arise when the public hangs on to it as truth.

************
I have a very high IQ...and I have always felt a little different. I have learned to be patient with the world. I am careful who I trust. There is a whole bigger picture that I do not sense even the most salient mental health professionals understanding. BPD can be frustrating...sometimes outright infuriating...for both the patient and the therapist. Breaking that alienation is the beginning of the key and yet it is also the beginning of more problems before healing can begin.

I think I mostly grieve the loss of my true potiential. I have felt stupid most of my life and now I can begin to see how really wonderful I am...without being arrogant. It took me 20 years to get here. My intellectual peers are enjoying being in the prime of their careers and I am still struggling to achieve working at my true potential. A lot of my past "failures" were due to being unable to function because of trauma related experiences. Now it feels like I am beginning to blossom. The words can't come out fast enough and my papers are always outstanding.... It feels so good...and it was always there...but I didn't access to it until recently...20 years into adulthood.

Ultimately, this is a smashing success...a private victory for me and my therapist because I cannot share this with anyone else...beyond my husband. It is bitter sweet: I am happy to discover my inner magic and yet sad that it took me so long to get here.

***********
I hope that this was helpful.

Happy Holidays...Scherza

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