Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Soloist - is this accurate? Really?

When I heard about the movie, The Soloist, I got excited. I heard that it had an accurate portrayal of a person with Schizophrenia. NAMI endorsed the film, and they even have a website up about it. I thought this was impressive, and I made plans to see the film. Originally my mom was going to go with me and my friend Kathy. Then my mom had a mood issue, which led to an argument, which led to her turning her car around and me getting out of the car, which led to me and Kathy going to the movie alone. Enough said.

So, about this film: I was impressed. Robert Downey, Jr., when he's not playing some half-robot-half-human thing like in that dreadful movie he did a few months ago, is a good actor, in my opinion. So is Jaime Foxx. The story is a true one, and the story is interesting. One thing on the
plus side of this film is the way the voices the man with Schizophrenia hears are portrayed, which I thought was a pretty accurate portrayal of the way voices sometimes work with some people (it would take a pretty complicated film to present all the ways voices happen for all people, and might not be possible).

I think one of the best aspects of this film is the portrayal of people with serious mental illnesses becoming homeless, staying homeless, and living as homeless people due to the effects of their illness and their lack of money or treatment. But the film stops short of really getting to the bottom of that issue, of showing how helpful treatment would actually be to some of the film's characters, and in particular, the main character, Mr. Ayers (played by Foxx). The one person in the film who works in a social services field is a man working at the homeless shelter, and this man says to Robert Downey Jr.'s character something like, "I don't get into diagnoses". And "The last thing this man needs is another person telling him he needs medication." I found these statements to be stupid, and insulting. For anyone who hasn't lived through the nightmarish hell and torment of psychosis to say that medication isn't really important is beyond naive, and borders on callous disregard for human lives.

I know that everyone won't agree with me, but I feel that the question of whether or not a mentally ill person needs medication or does not need medication sort of becomes mute when the person is so floridly psychotic the person can't hold a conversation, is living on the streets eating garbage, and has no income to be ridiculous. Obviously this man needs help. If you happen to have this illness yourself, perhaps you know what kind of help might benefit him. I did say "might", because I am well aware of the shortcomings of medications, the fact they for some people none of them work at all, and for some of us they only work part of the time. But medications save people's lives and rescue people from the depths of the hell that is psychosis.

I know, I know, I know, forcing pills down people's throats is not a solution, is inhumane, and will not work. But I would argue that it is more inhumane to watch a person suffer through psychosis and do nothing to help really improve his situation in a concrete way. I know that the message of this film was that to be the friend of a person with serious mental illness is a real contribution to the person's life and really will help. That is true. Having friends is good for anybody, and being a friend to someone is a real, tangible contribution to that person's life. But if someone is drowning, and you say, "Hi there! I'm your friend, and I know you don't want a life jacket, so I'll just sit here and have a conversation with you while your lungs fill up with water, Buddy, because that's what friends are for!", are you really helping that person much??

Would you watch a person's flesh burn up in flames and consider yourself a friend because they didn't know that water would stop the fire, so they never asked you for water, and you never gave them any because you assumed they didn't want it? Is that humane? I would say it's not.

So let me just be frank here. If I ever go off my medication, I don't want you to have a conversation with me about music, or art, or poetry, or television, or history, or women's rights, while I'm psychotic. I don't want you to write a book about me and how psychotic I am, or to make a movie about me, or to simply call yourself my friend. I want you to help me. If I am psychotic and not taking medication, I want to be locked up in a hospital where the medications are given to me, and where I have no choice but to take them, and I say this from experience because that is exactly what it took for me to start getting better five years ago. It didn't help me to have friends at that time. When you're psychotic and homeless, and you don't know what is happening to you, friends don't tend to know quite what to do with you. Friends would be nice, but they are not enough. What you need is tangible assistance for the medical problem you are experiencing. I would never tell a friend who was suffering through cancer or AIDS that I'll be their friend while they sit at home and die because they chose not to take medication or get chemotherapy for their illness, and then proceed to pretend as if they are healthy and it's not really a matter of life and death.

When you're psychotic, it is always a matter of life and death. When people hear voices, more often than not, they hear voices telling them to hurt themselves. Sometimes people hear voices telling them to hurt others, though that is less common. People hear voices degrade them, dehumanize them, destroy them, over, and over, and over again all day long, every goddamn day for however many goddamn years they go without medication and it is nothing but pure, unadulterated hell.

I would not wish psychosis on my worst enemies, including George W. Bush. I would not wish that nightmare on anyone, and when I have a friend who is psychotic, do you know what I do? I say to them, "I'm concerned because it seems that you are psychotic right now. Are you taking your medication? Have you seen a psychiatrist lately? Can I drive you to a hospital?" I don't say, "Hey! Let's go out for ice cream!". A person who is psychotic won't benefit a whole lot from ice cream. They will benefit a lot more from Seroquel. And I am not trying to give any more credit (or money!) to the pharmaceutical industry, because we all know they don't deserve credit or money any more than already get (since they rake in billions each year). But I am saying, having been there, having been a person who was homeless, hearing voices, and living in constant torment, I do not EVER want to go through that again, for even a day, and I would not EVER sit by and watch another person live out that same nightmare. NEVER. I don't care what it takes to get help for someone. You need to do it, if you care about that person. Whatever it takes, you need to do it. If it takes forcing somebody into a hospital, then you do that. Because not doing it is the inhumane thing.

I realize not everyone will agree with this, but this is how I feel about this issue. So while I recommend The Soloist as a good film, and a touching story, I have to say, it doesn't tell the entire truth of the situation, and it left out some really vital pieces of information. It left out the way that a person might try to kill himself or herself because of psychosis. It left out that many people when psychotic become the victims of crimes, such as rape or robbery, it doesn't show the people who die on the streets and it doesn't show the upside to all of this, which is the simple, amazing way in which treatment can help people. Treatment with the proper medication can simply transform a person's life from a nightmare of living on the streets to a steady, hopeful, happy existence. And to ignore that fact is to do a great disservice to people with mental illnesses. That is my opinion on this.


  1. I just found out that, on top of everything else, Jamie Foxx has also won a couple of Grammys, that guy must be busy

  2. I agree with you, having been there myself.

    As much as i HATE hospital, I do believe it is the safest place for me to be when I am psychotic.

  3. I haven't seen the movie yet, but would like to. At least it is bringing the issue of severe mental illness and homelessness to the forefront for a little while. Any film that portrays the mentally ill as sensitive and human is a good step in the right direction.

    About forcing people to take their medications, you may be right, but it's a tricky situation. I've often said it took me 3 years and 3 break downs to get to the point where I would commit to taking the anti-psychotic medications and you're right before then it was hellish and why did I put myself through that? But then the medications were not an instant cure. It seemed like it took years to feel better, but eventually I did and I know I am one of the lucky ones.

    I really believe that it is the stigma attached to mental illness that stops people from taking the medications and that is heartbreaking. And for me, the expense of it was outrageous that I didn't want to get the meds. I mean close to $1000 a month for one med (zyprexa) is outrageous. I finally got health insurance, but my family is still paying $12,000 a year for it. It makes me feel ill that the pharmaceutical companies place profit over human decency. I really do believe that people with severe mental illness deserve to get their meds free or at greatly reduced prices. People just don't understand the torment of psychosis.



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