So this morning was a brain cloud for me. My daughter was being especially difficult because she was tired after refusing to go to sleep last night until well past her bedtime. I was up late as well, as was my husband and no one was dealing from a full deck. As a result I was lacking inspiration so I started watching a terrible movie about a suburban woman who goes crazy from the pressures of her life and believes she’s a dog. It opens with her attempting to commit suicide by wrapping a belt around her neck and tying it to the chandelier. The scene is disturbing as is the rest of the movie, not surprising considering the premise. However it got me thinking about how desensitized we’ve become to the concept of suicide, that it’s simply become a “thing that happens.” The scariest part is our children thinking suicide is an option when the waves of life come crashing down on them and they are gasping for breath. In his essay The Decay of Lying Oscar Wilde wrote that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” If one agrees with this premise it would stand to reason that artists bear a great responsibility to the public in regards to their creations. As suicide is associated with depression and a person with manic depression which is another term for bipolar disorder is 50% more likely to attempt suicide than a person with unipolar depression which means non bipolar clinical depression, there is no more vulnerable a group than the bipolar teen. As adolescents are already impressionable and less able to think past the present moment suicide may seem a viable option for escape from their troubles. Especially if they are battling bipolar disorder and have either not been diagnosed or are not taking their medications. So for an artist to create an environment on screen where characters are laughing at the concept of suicide, or where an attempted suicide is used as simply a vehicle to push the plot line forward, creating sympathy for the character without addressing the issue, is wholly irresponsible. People copy what they see in the movies and in videos, most especially adolescents.
I addressed this in earlier posts and I will land on it again, that so often in our society the issue of mental illness and its effects on the individual and their family is either hidden, ignored, or not taken seriously. The same can be said of the art around us and how it approaches mental illness. Moviemakers in particular are guilty of this egregious sin, as I have mentioned in previous posts. using serious conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder or schizophrenia as comic fodder for their storylines. Laughing at symptoms that in real life would be absolutely terrifying to the person experiencing them. In my post “I’m Not Laughing” I talked about watching a movie during which the audience was supposed to laugh at a little girl with bipolar disorder just because of her disorder. I can’t imagine that same audience laughing at a little girl with cancer even though bipolar disorder is statistically more deadly. There is a pervasive double standard in our culture that has to change. My mother explains it this way: mental illness is no different than any other kind of illness. It is simply based in the brain while other illnesses affect other organs. The symptoms look different because the organ affected is different. It does NOT make the illness less deadly. It does NOT make it something to laugh at. Oddly enough, although the movie I saw this morning was billed as a dark comedy, the attempted suicide scene was not made to be in the least bit funny which I appreciated and although the movie itself was badly acted and badly made, there was an obvious sympathy towards the character experiencing the breakdown that I wish were more common in films.
In light of this subject I cannot help but to think of this passage taken from Luke 12:48 of the Bible, King James version:
“For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required:
and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”
I would call upon all artists of our time to take seriously this issue of mental illness and the stigma it carries. Let them choose with care what example they set for those who would follow in their wake. I would ask them to rise with their God given gifts and talents and use them for the betterment of our society. Let them teach people how to treat each other and work together to eradicate the stigma of mental illness once and for all. Let them have life and not blood on their hands.
There was a knock on the door child
Did you hear it?
It was your sister with her favorite doll she wants to play
Will you play with her?
The paint on these walls is peeling my dear
And there’s a dampness in the corners
Can you see the spring of mold?
Your flowers are dry and crumbling now…they weren’t like that before…
Come outside your sister is calling you,
“Come out to the garden, come out and play with me!” She cries
But you can’t can you?
The wooden floor beneath your feet is rotting girl
But you can’t feel it
You don’t know it’s there
You’re breathing out butterflies and dust
Your eyes are glass
Your mother braided a violet ribbon through your hair
Your sister will have to find her own way home
Crying now won’t do you any good…
Your blood was warm until you spilled some on the floor.