Watched the new show Perception (TNT). The main character played by Eric McCormack, of Will & Grace fame, is clearly suffering from a psychiatric illness. As per normal hollywood fashion, the mentally ill shown on TV seem to fall into two distinct categories either criminals, or bright savant types. McCormack’s character, a college professor falls into the latter category. I tend to have very mixed feelings about shows like this. They may be interesting, and are well acted, but I always have this nagging irritation. There are brilliant mentally ill people, that is true, it is just the sugar coating that gets me. There is a flip side to the condition, that hollywood rarely captures. The general public has such skewed views of what living with mental illness is like. Not all schizophrenics write on walls, solve math problems effortlessly and have invisible friends. Shows like Perception, and movies like a Brilliant Mind only reinforce the everyday misconceptions about the illness. Most people are far more likely to come across a homeless man talking to himself, then to see a savant working out algorithms. There are so many shades of gray in between the two, that the average person never considers. They see the violent criminal on Law and Order, and think he’s nuts, and the next step in most people’s minds is the guy talking to himself must be dangerous. Sadly, that guy talking to himself is far more likely to hurt himself, than anyone else.
I think there needs to be a balance somewhere. But, there is no drama in the middle ground. Only when they show people trying to jump off buildings, or killing other people do shows get the ratings. I guess until you see it from the inside, it doesn’t even register. I just wish people could understand mental illness better. Hollywood doesn’t help.