The other day I was watching some episodes of House with one of my roommates. This was actually my first time watching House but we ended up in a string of episodes where Dr. House is hallucinating and ends up in a psychiatric hospital (Season 6-mainly episodes 1 and 2). Dr. House is there to recover from his Vicodin addiction and then stays longer to undergo talk and group therapy. My attention of course perked up. I was very interested in seeing how they played this out.
I actually thought the show did a decent job of portraying the characters affected by various mental health conditions. They showed how severe and hard their conditions can be to live with but also generally treated the characters with respect, not sacrificing this too often for comedy. I can’t judge their portrayal of the psychiatric hospital because I fortunately have never been hospitalized so if anyone else has opinions on how they portrayed this I’d love to hear them.
What I want to focus on instead of how the show treated mental illness is something my roommate said. It began as, “Wow…I’m so grateful I’ve never had to…”
Of course I thought this was leading to “suffer from a mental illness” or “be hospitalized for mental health issues” or just something along those lines. The episodes did take place in a psychiatric hospital.
Nope, that’s not what she said. She said, “Wow…I’m so grateful I’ve never had to deal with a drug addiction or gotten involved with drugs.” hmm. Not what I expected. I would like to mention that Dr. House was the only character in the facility being treated for a drug addiction. (And yes, this is also a terrible mental illness, just as hard as the other characters’ bipolar disorder, anorexia, self-harm, etc. I’m not trying to downplay these struggles or the patience and empathy they deserve.) My problem with what she said is what it implicates for how most of general society, that either isn’t somehow affected by mental illness or working to help those affected, thinks about mental illness. The way I read between the lines of her comment is that she felt so detached from those with mental illness, that they are so part of “them” and she is so part of “us,” that the only character she could try to put herself in their shoes for and empathize with was the one affected physically, by a physical need for drugs (which of course also involves a mental addiction but I’m not sure if she viewed it this way.) Every other character in the hospital was being tortured by a mental illness. And did they earn her empathy and gratefulness for not having this type of problem? No. She had no problem laughing at their “odd” behavior and lines.
Why is it that society feels so disconnected from those with mental illness? Why do we seem so different from them, like crazies who are no longer normal people? One word. Stigma. Those with mental health issues are often seen as just making it up, not trying hard enough, or simply crazy and not able to be helped (none of which is true!). We are all still normal people, with hobbies, family, friends, goals, and normal emotions and thoughts too.
I said this in a tweet recently and I’ll say it again: Why is it common sense to be sympathetic toward physical illnesses but not mental illnesses?
This enduring stigma is why it is so necessary for everyone to keep talking about mental health and how we should treat mental illnesses. We need to earn these disorders the respect and attention they deserve so one day they can be treated equally with physical illnesses. No other organ is so discriminated against as the brain. but conversation can change this.
PsychCentral also wrote an article sharing their opinion on these episodes and the depiction of mental illness/psychiatric hospitals: http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2009/09/22/house-in-a-psychiatric-hospital/
P.S. I really love my roommate and she is a very nice girl! I doubt she meant any harm and I don’t mean to attack or insult her in any way. I just wish I would have more clearly realized the implications of what she said sooner and started a conversation. oh well. I’m ready for my next chance now!