First Quarter 2002 Newsletter

Pirkko Lahti

I love films. I recently went to see A Beautiful Mind, about a mathematical genius taken ill with paranoid schizophrenia. The film discusses the borderline between the real and the imaginary. What is knowledge? Where is the line between wisdom and madness? What is the psychiatric treatment people receive? Does it seem horrendous or helpful in the eyes of a lay audience? What makes a good psychiatrist? Is a psychiatrist a friend or an enemy? What is a good relationship between two people, and how does it survive the illness of one of them? Can a loving wife suffice as a healer? Is something more needed? Can a sick person learn to live with hallucinations? What is the role of relatives? Should we believe our own eyes or rely on what others say?

At the end of the film, the mathematician John Nash receives a Nobel Prize (1994) for his revolutionary ideas on game theory. He has learned to live with his hallucinations. He has been �healed� by the love of his wife and her trust that things can change. The healthy mind wins.

The film is full of cliches, stereotypical attitudes, and distortion of truth for dramatic effect. Yet I hope that films such as this will increase informed discussion about questions related to mental health. Many times in life the line between reality and imagination is, indeed, blurred, as is the difference between a healthy and a sick person.

A Beautiful Mind also raises the question of the role of the media in portraying psychiatric illnesses. The media reflect attitudes: they sell information as a product or event. They will be selling the same information and product at a discount next year. This is what is happening, for example, with the September 11 events. The attack was intensively featured in the media for two or three months. After that it was referred to when it was relevant to other news. A year after the event there will be numerous recaps on what happened that day and what has happened since then.

This is the law of the media. We reach saturation point very quickly. We read and absorb new information, but the information is new only for a day. In the homes of those actually affected by the September events, as well as in their workplaces, suffering has continued every single day afterwards.

Living with reality, living with illness, is demanding. Pain that is with you every day is the most wearing kind. Passing moments of reality and momentary difficulties are much easier to bear.

The scope of mental health is wide. It can be seen from a whole range of different angles. Approaching these issues and talking about them, for example through art and culture, gives people a richer variety of viewpoints and broadens attitudes. My hope, therefore, is for more films, plays, events – all kinds of joint endeavors – in the fields of culture and mental health.

Pirkko Lahti

First Quarter 2002 Newsletter

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