I was watching the TV of the celebration after the LA Lakers won the National Basketball Association championship by defeating the Boston Celtics.. A TV reporter thrust the microphone in front of ebullient LA player Ron Artest and asked him how he felt. Among the words that the elated basketball player blurted out on national television wasÂ that he wouldÂ like to thank hisÂ psychiatrist! He went on to say ” There is so much commotion going on in the playoffs. She helped me relax.” Granted this was not an Academy Award acceptance speech but is seemed quite unusual and remarkable that we are now hearing such a public acknowledgment.
Ron Artest has had outbursts of temper in the pastÂ and one time a few years ago he ran into the stands and pummeled a fan. However, it is not known if his psychiatric treatment involved psychotherapy, psychopharmacology or some type of relaxation therapy concerning this crucial series. It is significant that more celebritiesÂ in recent years have been comfortable in talking aboutÂ their own mental health issues and their treatment with psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.
When the Boston Celtics started winning their championships in the 1960’sÂ such a public statement was nearly unheard of. In 1972 a vice presidential candidate was revealed to have had depression with ECT treatment and he had to resign from theÂ ticket. While I suspect thatÂ that a modern day politician could still not survive such a public revelation today, there has been a steady flow of celebrities who choose to talk about the their mental problems and psychiatric treatment without any discernible harm to their careers.
For example this list would include Richard Dreyfus, Uma Thurman, Ben Stiller , Jim Carey, George Michael, Adam Ant, Sinead O’Connor, Wionnal Ryder with some becoming spokespersons for mental health issues and even appearing at psychiatric meetings such as Mike Wallace, Brooke Shield and Carrie Fisher.
These public revelations demonstrate how far we have come in the fight against stigma in regard to mental illness. Even the fictional roles of therapists on televsion have evolved. In the 1970s there was a situation comedyÂ where comedian Bob Newhart played a therapist. It was good for a lot of laughs and lasted for seven years . Television’s depiction of therapy today is a much more realist one. For example In Treatment is an HBO dramaÂ Â about a fictionalized psychotherapist 53-year-old Dr. Paul WestonÂ and his weekly sessions with patients. The program, which stars Gabriel ByrneÂ as Paul, debuted on January 28, 2008, as a five-night-a-week show and now is beginning it’s third year. The therapist certainly is shown with human flaws but as somebody who has genuinely helped his patients. Another somewhat more sensational type of TV productionÂ is the reality TV show Celebrity Rehab and subsequent spinoffsÂ with Dr. Drew Pinsky who is an internist and addicition specialist who treats various celebrities on each show . The participants are obviously comfortable revealing their addiction problems and how they are trying to get help. When world famous golfer Tiger Woods had marital problems and sexual issues, he was shown going to some kind of a treatment facility.Â Psychiatrists and other mental health professionalsÂ have appeared as charactersÂ onÂ television medical dramas such as ER as well as in some the popular police and crime dramas. They areÂ Â usually shown in a very positive light. The evolution of the depiction of psychiatry and mental illnessÂ in the cinema is a fascinating and important story whichÂ has greatly influenced the public’s attitude on these subjects. Two worthwhile books which discuss this subject are Psychiatry and the Cinema by Krin and Glen Gabbard and Reel Psychiatry by David Robinson.
The wide spread use of computers and the Internet has surely contributed also to the changes in theÂ attitude towards mental illness and therapy. Information about mental illness and treatment is available within a few clicks as is information about any physical condition. Blogs and web sites are easily found on any subject including those that deal with some aspect of mental health. Organizations which have traditionally tried to address the stigma of mental illness such as the Mental Health America ( MHA) ,Â National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI), the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and many other reputable groups now have very popular web sites which are seen by millions of people. The social media on the Internet such as Facebook and Twitter are facilitating a freer communication which does brings intoÂ the openÂ psychological concerns along with everything else. It seems to discourage people from allowing painful secrets to fester in a harmful manner. On this blog I recently wrote about a website called Postsecrets where people anonymously post their secrets in the form of an artistic postcard. When a San Francisco resident told of his or her discouragement about life and plan to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge more than 60,000 people responded in a supportive manner.
I am sure that we still have a long way to go before stigma about mental problems and receiving therapy is eliminated. However there are lots of indications that we are moving in the right direction. Most psychiatrists and other therapists are probably well adjusted enough that they don’t need to see their patients praising them on national TV as Ron Artest chose to do. However when someone wants to issue a public thank you it is great to realize that there is no reason to feel that they can’t do it.