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Mental Illness in Pop Culture
Analyzing mental health issues and professional helping in film!
Category: TV & Film
Location: DeKalb, IL
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May 06, 2017 05:38 PM PDT

2016 Academy Award winning Moonlight intersects race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, interpersonal violence, and emotional neglect, all swirling around together with the identity development challenge of intimacy vs. isolation. These issues come together in three compelling chapters from the life story of a character known alternately as “Little,” “Chiron,” and “Black,” representing names he was referred to as a child, adolescent, and adult, initially set in Miami during the War on Drugs. The film challenges traditional assumptions about right and wrong as well as who people can trust to get their essential needs met, showing the infused mental health issues that come about and (sometimes) get resolved, in a perpetual and often generational cycle. In the podcast, we tentatively disagree with each other about the idea of how much “choice” is involved in some choices, but we ultimately agree the film represents the inherent beauty of human nature: flawed people doing the best they can under complicated circumstances and seeking relationship.

In this podcast series, we focus on pop culture portrayals of mental health issues and professional helping in film, believing that public perception is both reflected and influenced by popular media.

April 28, 2017 06:34 PM PDT

The cult classic and dark romantic comedy Harold and Maude puts a humorous yet existential gender spin on the May-December motif, with 20-year-old Harold Chasen (Bud Cort) proposing his love to 79-year-old Dame Marjorie “Maude” Chardin (Ruth Gordon). Filled with attention-seeking attempts at shock and awe, we discover Harold’s avoidant attachment style to have originated from lack thereof with his mother, known only as Mrs. Chasen (Vivian Pickles), who may be well intentioned but doesn’t know what to make of Harold’s morbid fascination with death (Thanophilia) and multiplicity of fake suicide demonstrations. In contrast, Maude represents utter fascination with life itself, and we learn an implied bitter backstory has led her to choose an optimistic and vivacious embracement of living life fully until its end. Through their relationship, and underscored by a pre-MTV almost magical juxtaposition of song with image via the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens, Harold experiences emotional entropy of Maude’s sheer joy for life and living in the moment.

In this podcast series, we focus on pop culture portrayals of mental health issues and professional helping, believing that public perception is both reflected and influenced by popular media.

April 21, 2017 04:20 PM PDT

In this extra-long episode of Mental Illness in Pop Culture, we examine The Soloist, featuring Jamie Foxx as the titled character, Nathaniel Ayers, Jr., a homeless musical prodigy with severe mental illness, and Robert Downey, Jr. as Steve Lopez, the L.A. Times writer whose columns about Ayers formed the film’s basis. We find the film to be an authentic portrayal of mental illness, struggle with whether or not the movie is yet another cinematic example of the White Savior Complex, conclude the portrayal of relationship (or lack of) as the core of mental health consistent William Glasser’s Choice Theory, and discuss how power/privilege plays out in mental health treatment and being homeless. In a #momentofauthenticity, podcaster Leanne discloses her personal story as a homeless adolescent being cared for by a parent with severe mental illness at 1:20:43.

In this podcast series, we focus on pop culture portrayals of mental health issues and professional helping, believing that public perception is both reflected and influenced by popular media.

April 15, 2017 01:51 PM PDT

In this episode of Mental Illness in Pop Culture, we explore abandonment, complex grief, depression, pain, New England masculine identity, forgiveness, dysfunctional coping strategies, anhedonia, family trauma, binge drinking, lack of professional helping, and acceptance of personal limitations in the Academy-Award-winning film Manchester by the Sea. We consider the film perhaps one of the saddest movies ever made and a realistic portrayal of the human condition. In the podcast, we acknowledge main character Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) “doing the best he can” despite many flaws and shortcomings in the aftermath of tragedy. We also applaud the film’s refusal to “tie everything up in a neat bow” with a Hollywood ending. Still, we reflect on Lee’s subtle development and transformation through his relationship with nephew Patty (Lucas Hedges), hinting at the potential for eventual hope. In this podcast series, we focus on pop culture portrayals of mental health issues and professional helping, believing that media both reflect and influence popular perception. This particular episode is dedicated to all the close people in our lives we’ve lost, most recently Anne Bloede and Dr. Jim Tolan.

April 07, 2017 04:22 PM PDT

We examine a variety of mental health issues, seeming contradictions, and tragic beauty in Amy, the 2015 Academy-Award-winning documentary about vocalist, musician, and songwriter Amy Winehouse, who became known as much for her "gobby" lifestyle/self-presentation, search for love, and exploitation by significant others in all domains of her life as for her music. Winehouse’s songs captured her powerful story, culminating in the refrain and lyrics of her mega-hit: “They tried to make me go to rehab; I said ‘No! No! No!’ . . . My daddy says I’m fine. . . . I don’t ever wanna drink again; I just, ooh, I just need a friend.”

In this podcast series, we focus on pop culture portrayals of mental health issues and professional helping, believing that media both reflect and influence popular perception.

April 01, 2017 02:44 AM PDT

We explore themes of freedom/oppression, empowerment, and escape as well as rampant religious symbolism within this Academy-Award-sweeping film that still holds up 40+ years later. Randall Patrick "Mac" MacMurphy (Jack Nicholson) bluffs his way into a mental institution to avoid hard labor and prison time despite his skeezy conning and conniving ways. However, during the time Mac spends as an informal helper among the hospital's patients and seemingly in contrast to professional helper Nurse Rached, Mac comes to have compassion, empathy, and a servant-leadership style that seems to facilitate transformational growth and development for all other patients, including his making the ultimate altruistic sacrifice. All characters experience redemption, find freedom from or within oppression and authenticity despite marginalizing and oppressive external forces. We also explore cultural identity and gender within what on the surface seems to just be a film about crazy white guys and one Native American.

In this podcast series, we focus on pop culture portrayals of mental health issues and professional helping, believing that media both reflect and influence popular perception.

April 01, 2017 12:34 AM PDT

In this introductory episode to our second season of Mental Illness in Pop Culture, we introduce ourselves (including new team members Broc and Leanne), talk about our interest/experience with mental health issues and professional helping, and plan for upcoming episodes!

December 16, 2016 08:46 PM PST

In this episode, Adam, Anna, Olivia, Toni, and Scott summarize what they've learned through the first season of Mental Illness in Pop Culture, going meta- on film and episode highlights, the collaborative process of working together, and podcasting itself, all based on the idea that popular media reflect and influence cultural perceptions of mental health issues and professional helping.

December 06, 2016 11:49 PM PST

"Do you ever look at someone and wonder, 'What is going on inside their head?'" In this episode of Mental Illness in Pop Culture, we take an "Inside Out" look at Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust as they shape core memories and personality development for 11-year-old Riley in this Disney/Pixar film. In this podcast series, we focus on pop culture portrayals of mental health issues and professional helping, believing that media both reflect and influence popular perception.

November 28, 2016 05:40 PM PST


In this series, we focus on pop culture portrayals of mental health issues and professional helping, believing that media both reflect and influence popular perception. In this episode, we focus on mental health issues experienced by various characters in Silver Linings Playbook, most notably main character Pat, his dance partner Tiffany, and his dad. We also spend time reflecting on Pat’s relationship with and the therapeutic style of psychiatrist Dr. Patel as well as ethical issues related to their interactions. As the film begins, Pat has recently spent time in a mental care facility, is re-acclimating to family life, and is pining at an almost obsessive level to get back together with his wife, Nikki. Pat befriends Tiffany at a dinner party, where they connect over a bond of social awkwardness and common medications, each with their own idiosyncratic quirks and mental health issues. Counselors believe that change comes from relationships, and we examine how this film’s characters empower and at times enable each other through therapeutic, romantic, and family relationships, all the while creating a playbook for “silver linings” for Pat.

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