TV Gets Into the Loony

Negative stereotypes of patients with mental illness have a long history in Hollywood. Inaccurate portrayals have an underestimated negative effect on the perception of people with disorders -- by the public, legislators, families and patients themselves, Gabbard says.

"The problem is that you have to make mental illness and the treatment entertaining to keep people interested in film and television," Gabbard said.

It's not just harmless fun, either, Gabbard said.

"The distorted images make their way into a collective unconscious of society and influence the way we all regard the world around us, including the mentally ill," he said. Gabbard co-authored "Psychiatry and the Cinema" with his brother, Krin Gabbard, professor of comparative literature at the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

"The Closer" mimics what some people living with eating disorders or at least a fixation on food may look like when obsessing on their object of desire. But it may also perpetuate a stereotype of single women who use food to fulfill their "unfulfilled desires."

"People become preoccupied with food,"said Walter Kaye, professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. "It does sometimes become an issue of self-control and that's certainly why sometimes someone may focus on the object."

In the show's pilot, Johnson eyes a box of full of doughnuts on another cop's desk. Cameras focus on the box while the detectives discuss the case. Johnson nearly takes one but then changes her mind. Finally she carries one back to her office and leaves it on her desk, uneaten.

"It's typical behavior for people who are obsessed with food to also not eat their object of obsession," Kay says. "Also, these people may collect cookbooks but never cook."

We are led to believe that the food obsession fulfills something in the single, middle-aged life of the salty-tongued Johnson.

"For anorexia nervosa it's fairly straightforward," Kay said. "People often don't see themselves as having a problem. They see themselves as fat, and half of them restrict their eating. The other half binge and purge. And many of them say it's about control. This control one feels like they lose sometimes during middle age could be addressed this way. But that's also simplistic."

Listing films that have done a decent job in portraying mental illness is not all that time-consuming, unfortunately, Gabbard said.

He named "A Beautiful Mind," however, as a film that does depict mental illness and its recovery in a fair way.

" 'A Beautiful Mind' does help an audience see how one becomes paranoid," Gabbard said. "The tendency to go over the top is of course still there but they do at least attempt to portray the treatment."

While "Monk" sometimes tends to go for the laugh in its OCD portrayal, overall, it does a good job, too, Gabbard said.

Storytelling economy aside, critics say that the one thing that is most irritating about portrayals of mental illness is pessimism about recovery.

Even Perkins wishes "Monk" would discuss the proper treatment. Instead of going to therapy, which she says does not curb OCD behavior, she wishes the show would talk about medication.

"It's the only treatment that works," she said.

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