Monday, June 01, 2009

Fox's New Show "Mental" Should Be Put Away

Vincent, the paranoid schizophrenic artist who draws little green men and has visual hallucinations [not the more typical auditory sort], was found screaming and wandering naked in traffic.

The summer replacement series with the un-PC name1 is about life in a psychiatric inpatient unit:
MENTAL is a medical mystery drama featuring Dr. Jack Gallagher, a radically unorthodox psychiatrist who becomes Director of Mental Health Services at a Los Angeles hospital where he takes on patients battling unknown, misunderstood and often misdiagnosed psychiatric conditions. Gallagher delves inside their minds to gain a true understanding of who his patients are, allowing him to uncover what might be the key to their long-term recovery.
Unfortunately, the pilot episode was absolutely terrible, just one stereotype after another, with the brave unorthodox heroic psychiatrist opposing the shrew-like female staff and suggesting that herbs and acupuncture are the best treatment for paranoid schizophrenia.

Vincent the mental patient is unnaturally strong and cannot be subdued by several cops and hospital administrators. So the rakish Dr. Gallagher strips naked to gain his trust as a fellow human, joined together in the fight against the scary lizard people.

The acting was bad, the writing was awful, and the characters were unappealing. The situations were wildly unrealistic: psychiatry residents are sent on a house call (fact-finding mission), Gallagher is arrested for breaking into Vincent's home to see his outsider art, and the inexplicable charisma of Gallagher and his ways manages to change the mind of one female colleague who had actually resigned in protest (no matter that her turnaround was nearly nonsensical).

After breaking and entering, Dr. Gallagher views his patient's outsider art for the first time. The tortured artist Vincent had completely lost his creativity due to zombifying antipsychotic medications that, nonetheless, allowed him to function in society and live with his sister and her kids.

The show makes the unfortunate suggestion that drugs are all bad.2 Gallagher guilt-trips the sister into accepting his new-age treatment plan for Vincent, who otherwise must make the ultimate sacrifice (loss of his artistic abilities, minimal though they are) of resuming medication.

And here's the drug-free Vincent, drawing for the first time in ages while his sister looks on.

Other choice critiques (via @blueberrio):
  • Nearly every line contained a stereotype, and many were damaging stereotypes. Unrealistic to the point of stigmatizing
  • I'll bet NAMI's Stigma Busters are all over #mental [not yet]
  • I was especially offended by the "nymphomaniac" elderly woman. Having sexual desires over age 65 is grounds for committal?
And via @aliciasparks:
  • i think they were trying to allude to some sort of extreme provocative behavior (or increased sex drive, as is sometimes...
  • ..the case w/ conditions like bipolar disorder. but, they didn't elaborate very well, did they? plus, the cinematography...
  • ...left a lot to be desired. some scenes just looked cheap (& not budget wise, if you know what i mean).
For more in-depth criticism, see Psychiatry's Unorthodoxies and Freakshows via Fox TV, which places the show in the historical context of "the asylum."


1 Here's the Urban Dictionary on the term "mental":
mental crazy stupid retard insane retarded dumb psycho mad idiot nuts weird sick slow braintard sex gay nutter moron disorder retarted physical special mind lunatic loser bitch silly fuckdisease cool spastic loony idiotic strange random loco freak dumbass bonkers angry spaz illfunny fucked fat fag emo disabled depression

1. mental

meaning someone who is silly or stupid, usually for attention and in a random or sporadic way, involving nonsensical references and actions. usually violent or quick action involved, resulting in general amusement and hilarity of onlookers.
"hey look, archie's jumping off that cliff while holding a banana!"
"wow! he's mental!"

2 This is not to deny that antipsychotics do, of course, have some very bad side effects.

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At June 01, 2009 11:28 AM, Blogger Whaler said...'s pretty terrible. Which is disappointing. For all it's flaws House manages to be pretty intelligent and amusing at least. It's too bad they couldn't make something of that caliber about the psychiatric profession.

At June 01, 2009 11:09 PM, Blogger Michelle D. said...

As a RN who works in acute inpatient psychiatry I have often though, "this would make an interesting television show". I was intrigued when I heard about "mental". I was incredibly disappointed when I watched the first episode. The whole show paints a completely inaccurate portrayal of mental illness and also psychiatry. Unfortunately, I felt that the main message of the show was that all we do in psyc is try and pump patients who are vulnerable full of meds that take away who they are as a person. Also, very unfortunately, I began to think, well I know that this is not what inpatient psyc is like in Canada, maybe this is what mental health is like the United States? The show fuels stereotypes about mental health, giving the public misinformation about the certification process, treatment, psyc health care professionals and reinforces stigma of mental illness.Also, I don't understand why there are no nurses, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapist, recreational therapists etc etc on the show considering that's who's providing care for the patients in a multidisciplinary health care team.

At June 05, 2009 4:51 AM, Blogger Neuroskeptic said...

I have an idea for a show, I call it "Bonkers". A science blogger, frustrated by the endless misrepresentation of mental health issues in the media, goes bonkers, kidnaps the writers of "Mental", and forces them to read psychiatry textbooks.

At June 05, 2009 9:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I DETEST IT! My question is what show did it replace,anyone know?

At June 09, 2009 12:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

OK, I'll admit that I was entertained by it. Was it realistic.. not really. But neither is House, or CSI, or any drama that apparently chronicles some particular profession. Also, when I watched it the character did not put down medication in favor of some new age treatment. He said that the patient would undoubtedly need medication and therapy, but wanted to try a different cocktail. Same thing happened when my bipolar sister started having psychotic episodes after being stable on medications for 6 years. A suicide attempt lead to her stopping all meds and the doctors decided to try a new cocktail and find a treatment that works. Yes, new age treatments were given in that list of finding something that works. Remember that this is TV. It will be full of stereotypes. The characters will do things that are way outside the range of their actual job duties. Medical conditions will be exaggerated. I'm also surprised that I saw a couple of comparisons to House suggesting that that is an accurate portrayal of something. House is a "diagnostician" which was invented for the show. Doctors don't regularly break into the houses of their patients. Major hospitals would not employee a doctor that is very open about his drug addiction and regularly nearly kills his patients for his own amusement. On the other hand, that is why I watch the show. It is sad that some people might see this as some accurate representation. It is sad that someone with legislative power might let a show like Mental guide their thinking when making laws regarding the mentally ill. That is the power of fiction and entertainment. Does anyone have any examples of good TV shows they feel present an accurate portrayal of mental illness and psychiatry?

At June 09, 2009 3:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Irresponsible, ignorant and poor storytelling. After enjoying an episode of House I decided to slide into the premier of Mental. The show was almost bearable until the director decided that committing a felony (breaking and entering) was easier than asking to see the patients room and when he started waxing homeopathic (I'm a neuroscientist and this really struck a 'nerve').

I'd definitely watch a revised version of the show where the writers and directors are forced to use a cast of unmedicated schizophrenics.

At June 09, 2009 7:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The previous commenter said they enjoyed House and the complained that the show Mental had a doctor break into someone's house to gain information. That happens on practically every episode of House!

At June 20, 2009 7:40 PM, Blogger Dr. Deb said...

Just watched a recent episode. Eegads, what a terrible stigmatizing ill-advised show.


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