FINALLY, A SHOW THAT DOESN’T SENSATIONALISE MENTAL HEALTH
Mental health hasn’t had what you’d call a relatable portrayal on TV. Sure, plenty of shows have tackled mental illnesses and associated disorders, and often in awardwinning style – Homeland’s Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a brilliant CIA agent who happens to have bipolar disorder and Jessica Jones’ title character (Krysten Ritter) is a private detective battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But what is it like for everyday people living with a long-term, potentially debilitating mental illness or disorder? Almost 50 per cent of us will experience some form of mental health issue during our lifetime, but we’re not fighting terrorism or curing cancer, we’re just out there living average lives, doing everyday stuff and getting on with things.
Refreshingly, new two-part series How ‘Mad’ Are You? (starts Thurs., Oct. 11 at 8.30pm on SBS) pretty much nails what it’s like to be one of these people and shines a more realistic light on mental health – how it is diagnosed and what it means to be living with a diagnosis. Over the two episodes, 10 participants head to a retreat for a week and take part in a series of studies, cameras filming them along the way. Five people in the experiment have been diagnosed as being mentally unwell; five have not, and it’s up to a group of three mental health experts to figure out who’s who.
Someone in the group has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, one had an eating disorder so bad they once feared drinking water, there’s someone among the 10 with OCD and another who suffers from bipolar disorder. The last of the five suffers from crippling social anxiety. But here’s the thing: not one of them stands out. No-one knows who in the group is “mad” and who is totally “normal.” And that’s entirely the point – that the line between mental health and mental illness is a fine one indeed.
How ‘Mad’ Are You? sounds like it should be a thoroughly irksome show – after all, who wants to sit around watching people being judged and critiqued for being mentally unwell, calling them out on it and confronting them? Yeah, not me. But this series actually says something really important about the fact that mental health is often difficult to identify. Also, it shows that once you’ve sought help, it is totally reasonable to expect to live a pretty normal life. You could even take part in a show like this, and a panel of two psychiatrists and one psychologist wouldn’t be able to tell you’ve ever had a problem.
For that reason, it’s worth a look. The participants aren’t fighting off the Taliban or single-handedly doing open-heart surgery on a guy with nothing more than a ballpoint pen and a bottle of duty free gin, they’re just living their lives. Good on SBS for depicting this.
From left: Prof Tim Carey, Jan Macintire and Prof Jayashri Kulkarni try to determine how ‘mad’ 10 participants are.
Jessica Jones has been praised for its realistic portrayal of PTSD.
Danes’ portrayal of a CIA agent with bipolar disorder has earned her two Emmy Awards.