He’s Amongst Us…
A pair of short films have been released by UK based Time to Change, a group focused on ending the stigma and discrimination surrounding perceived mental illness. The films feature Stuart Baker-Brown who is living with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. They are designed to play off of the sensational nature with which mental illness is portrayed in the media and call into question the public’s fearful notions of people diagnosed as mentally ill.
The first begins with all of the time worn visual cues and creep-out noises of a horror movie and the title, Schizo: He’s amongst us…, then reveals the very “normal” scene of Baker-Brown making tea and discussing his condition. The second bears the tag line “Schizophrenic man terrifies kids at party” and the appearance of actual home video footage, leading the viewer to believe they are about to see a madman on the attack.
While they lose some of the impact if you know what they’re about (as in being directed to them by a weblog such as this) most people that see them will see them as ads, not unlike public service announcements and without the benefit of being clued in to the intentions of the film makers. While very deliberate in setting up the viewer, they should do a good job of making at least some people question what they think of mental illness and why.
There is no question that people tend to associate perceived mental illness with violence despite all evidence to the contrary. That’s why people are so willing to lock up and medicate their neighbors whether criminal and violent or not. It’s the fear that their “illness” rules them and violence is virtually inevitable. However, studies show that people with mental health diagnoses are no more likely to commit violent acts than those without and that there are far better indicators as to whether someone may become violent. That said, sensationalism sells. Whether it’s newspapers or movie tickets, the idea of this unpredictable and uncontrolled group of violent lunatics plays on people’s fears and fears have never had to be rational.
In both of the films Stuart Baker-Brown stresses the importance of the support of his family and friends in helping him live a full life — and his life seems very full. Among other things, he is a traveller and a brilliant photographer creating images that easily stand on their own without any backstory. If he can credit his friends and family for adding to the fullness of his life and playing a large role in managing his formidable problems, what damage can we attribute to the many more people who respond to “mental illness” with fear, prejudice and scorn? It must be a lonely and empty world when the people around you fear you, often before they even know you but let’s face it — fear is so easy and understanding takes effort.