Individuals are collectives, collectives individuals. The images above are from the searing Welsh film The Other Side of the Underneath.
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I start the list with some fine films about individual mental health problems, with the rest in year order.
However, I see mental illness as very much a collective as well as individual, a social as well as medical, problem, hence the inclusion of some films here that may raise eyebrows. Does “mental illness” even exist? Which one of us has perfect mental health? Individuals need protection from society as well as vice-versa. Oh, the things many of us will do in the name of nationalism /tribalism/ patriotism, fear of foreigners, otherness etc! Monsieur Verdoux wasn’t so far wrong; we sanctify as heroic mass murder by the collective. Isn’t it a strange distortion to imagine one country or religion or gender superior to another? When we’re complementary and in it together. There is of course a widespread propensity to follow en masse any old load of cobblers. This list has lots of films about people seeking or neeeding psychiatric help, and who would be considered as having mental health problems, whether anguish, delusion, psychosis, depression, but really the dividing line between sanity and insanity is often blurred, and also dependent on social constructs. I could have included most films involving human behaviour and thought.
“An unhealthy society is one which creates mutual hostility [and] distrust, which transforms man into an instrument of use and exploitation for others, which deprives him of a sense of self, except inasmuch as he submits to others or becomes an automaton”…“Yet many psychiatrists and psychologists refuse to entertain the idea that society as a whole may be lacking in sanity. They hold that the problem of mental health in a society is only that of the number of ‘unadjusted’ individuals, and not of a possible unadjustment of the culture itself” (Erich Fromm)
There was an interesting short BBC TV series a few years back with 5 natives of the island of Tanna visiting the advanced civilisation that is the UK. Certain aspects of life seemed most peculiar to them- homeless people lying in the streets, people passing without acknowledgement or reply, aristocrats proudly displaying their mantraps, the food system, formal etiquette, long and regimented working hours, throwaway society…
Then again, they consider the Duke of Edinburgh to be divine. Before followers of some religions scoff too loudly, it must be remembered that at least he exists. Probably.
My intention here is not to promote ableist views of mental illness, including anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, as marks of inferiority, absurdity or faultiness, often leading to casting out as “other”, but the opposite. However, precisely by placing dangerous and abhorrent bigotry, racism, sexism, nationalism alongside individual mental anguish, i may be also casting the latter into disrepute rather than deserving help. There is a difference between society’s damaging attitudes and irrational actions and those who suffer yet are considered ill. I’m against society condemning certain groups- and beyond mental health- as “abnormal” and better out of sight or done away with altogether. There’s far too much stigma attached to people with certain mental health problems or who have needed professional help. As well as arbitrary or damaging cut-offs between mental normality and abnormality, dominant notions of “handicap”, “impairment”, compared with socially-imposed disability, still need to be challenged. Greater empathy rather than disparaging assumptions would help us all.
Psychiatry in many countries has made progress towards treating individuals with mental health problems more respectfully, and looking to promote independence rather than automatically banging up, away from so-called “normal” society, and giving shocking treatment, but mental health professionals can still be damaging. My poor mother died in a psychiatric hospital, a few days after her last of several admissions in which she underwent frequent electric shocks. When not having bouts of “mental illness”, she was as kind, patient, calm and caring a person as you could wish to meet.