CHENNAI: Mental health and the media’ was the topic of discussion at the latest edition of Mental Health Café. A series facilitated by the SCARF (Schizophrenia Research Foundation) to engage citizens in conversations related to mental health, this event was held on Sunday evening at Etc café on Wallace Garden Road. A lively interactive discussion followed the address of the panelists — R Venkatesh, executive editor, Kalki magazine, Jaya Shreedhar, adjunct faculty, Asian College of Journalism, and Karu Palaniappan, Tamil filmmaker.
Talking about media and mental health, Venkatesh pointed out that print media has come a long way from referring to people with mental illness as mad or crazy, to being politically correct and sensitive. “Most articles that appear in print media on mental illness these days end with a helpline number,” he said, “but reporting still does not reflect newer theories, or recent research — we are stuck in the Freudian days.”
Jaya Shreedhar stressed on the need to understand that mental illness could affect anyone. “Everyone has an issue,” she said. In an attempt to sensationalise news, only suicides, or episodes of violence related to mental illness make the headlines. “This results in stories of people grappling with depression, and stories of hope going unreported and thereby increases the stigma around mental health.”
She stated that curiosity, courage and sensitivity in reporting will be a great service to mental health, and frequent workshops for the same would help journalists.
Karu Palaniappan, the director of Pirivvom Sandhippom (2008) fame, spoke about how he used lag shots as a device to show the isolation of the protagonist in his film. “Movies are a money-making medium and a film without a dramatic character won’t make it big. There is a fine line between the reel and the real, so the depiction of mental illness in a movie will change when the audience is aware; it also demands the shift to a realistic portrayal.”
Dr Thara of SCARF who was present among the audience observed how most people’s perception of mental illness comes mostly from watching films. Said Dr Mangala, “Recent movies such as Soodhu Kavvum (2013) had a subtle mental health angle that many people missed, but the character Johnny from the film Madras (2014) is how we ideally want to see mental illness depicted — as living with an illness, being acknowledged, and most importantly, being included.”