Bipolarity, schizophrenia, borderline disorder: these words can be scary. In particular, certain cinematographic works and series which feed the clichés on psychiatric illnesses. To differentiate right from wrong and destigmatize mental health, psychiatrist Jean-Victor Blanc wrote the book Pop & shrink. He gives examples of fair representations of mental pathologies in pop culture, all embellished with studies, figures and professional experience with his patients. To conclude season 2 of our program “My head and me” on the mental health of young people, we met this young committed psychiatrist.
In your book, you explain that films like Flight over a cuckoo’s nest have had an undeniable impact on our vision of psychiatry. What impact does this type of film have on people who suffer from mental disorders but also on mental health professionals?
They have a major and globally very negative impact. My book Pop & Psy started like this: a young patient, who was under 20, came for a suicidal crisis in the emergency room. I suggest hospitalization in our service at the Saint-Antoine hospital. It is a general hospital, that is to say there is a psychiatry service but on the floor above, it is cardio, below hematology. So we are really far from a psychiatric hospital. I offer her hospitalization in the ward and she tells me “no, I don’t want to be in the movie with Jack Nicholson”. I said to myself “it’s crazy that someone under 20 is quoting this film. »
This film is really a trauma for the sick and it continues to feed the clichés. Obviously, the idea is not to say that it should be censored or canceled. It’s a beautiful film, which has several meanings. What I regret on the other hand, as a young psychiatrist, is that for a long time he was the only reference when we were talking about mental health.
Precisely, is a change taking place within the cinematographic environment?
Yes, massive. Since 2019, when I started the book and lectures on this subject, countless numbers of personalities have spoken about their mental health. Mariah Carey opened up about her bipolar disorder. Selena Gomez talked about it and produced 13 reasons why. There were also some very strong works, like happiness therapywhich was Oscar winner or the phenomenon Euphoria, whose season 2 made a tidal wave. Everyone is talking about this series which tackles mental health and addictions.
What I find great is that all sectors are affected today. This is the case of fashion with Isabel Marant who said: “Today, to be a designer, there is so much pressure that you have to do yoga and green beans rather than sex, drugs and rock. n’roll”. Athletes also spoke like Naomi Osaka or Simone Biles. There is not a sector that is not touched, sensitized, today. This shows that it is much more than a ground swell. It’s almost a tidal wave.
Can these public speeches raise awareness on the part of the population?
Sure. In the United States, the two moments when bipolar disorder has been most talked about in the last ten years are when Mariah Carey announced her diagnosis and when Kanye West launched himself into the presidential race. Which shows that there is also an ambivalent side. Because in one case, she was doing it at a time when she said, “I can testify, because I’m fine thanks to my treatment and my hospitalization.” In the other case, we have something less controlled and much more complex. But it is certain that speeches really give visibility to the subject. Much more than a medical discovery or a scientific fact.
Let’s talk about scientific facts. In your book, you explain that many films are full of characters with symptoms of different pathologies but which do not really reflect any of them. What impact do these choices have on the knowledge of mental pathologies?
We saw it a lot with the film Joker. Some of the main character’s symptoms may resemble schizophrenia but this was not a representative picture at all. This was also the case with the release of the film Split. There was a peak of research on the Internet on schizophrenia at the time of its release when it has nothing to do with this pathology.
For a long time, the works were pretty lazy and poorly documented and so what was supposed to be schizophrenia or bipolar disorder didn’t look like much after all. Today, I find that an effort is being made in the works. They are more documented, more realistic and, often, what I find fascinating is that they are carried by people directly or indirectly concerned. I am thinking in particular of Euphoria or the director of restless whose father suffers from bipolar disorder or Lily Collins who starred in To the bone and who confided to having fought against anorexia for years.
Several studies show that the younger generation is more interested in mental health issues. How do you explain it?
I think there are several factors. First, it is self-sustaining. The fact that an ultra-popular series like Euphoria talking about it makes us talk about the subject. Social networks have also really freed up speech on the subject. Before, a young person with bipolar disorder found himself really isolated in the face of his symptoms, unless he traveled miles to find an association in which there were not necessarily people of his age. Today, Internet users can talk about it directly and create communities around subjects that were previously taboo.
And then the last element is that all of this was caught up in a more global movement to fight against discrimination, whether because of sex, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Everything that is said about the destigmatization of mental health, these are things that have already been worked on by the MeToo movement. The younger generation is particularly attentive to these questions.
Do you notice with your patients that mental health is less taboo among young people?
If we look at things in a macro way, between three generations, we see that the grandparents did not talk about these subjects. They said “he went to a nursing home” when it was a psychiatric hospitalization or “we don’t know what he died of” when it was a suicide. For parents, it’s a little less taboo and for the latest generation it’s even less so.
Afterwards, it is still very stigmatized. Hence the desire with Pop & Psy to change mentalities. Sometimes we say “it’s a hot topic” but I assure you that people with bipolar disorder can’t shout it from the rooftops. Admittedly, when you are Maria Carey, Selena Gomez or Kanye West, it may be a little easier, but the vast majority of people hide their disorder at work and from those around them.
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