Psychological research has had a tendency to study negative effects of behavior both on the individual and cultural level. But new research however, has started to focus more on the positive aspects of life. I like this shift, as I think it will change how we look at the world . In one TED talk I watched, scientists were studying genetic superhumans. That is, people with genetic ‘flaws’ that has proven to give these people abilities normal people don’t have. By getting more knowledge about these ‘superhumans’ we are also a step closer to knowing what environmental, psychological and biological factors contribute to their genetic make-up.
Humans in a big crowd have an inclination to behave the same way. It is difficult to resist the force of it. This is why people, who ordinarily are sensible, can do things that they regret afterwards . It is also the reason people who are harmless normally can become violent.
There are thousand different ways we can be affected by mass suggestion, both in a negative and positive sense.
A mass-suggestion experiment
If I could do a study as a researcher, I would want to look at how positive mass-suggestion could affect us . Let’s for fun’s sake call it a social media experiment. If every person shared the research hypothesis I’m about to present with one person, it would be interesting to see what would happen next.
My hypothesis would be something like: Can we by mass-suggestion, make people around the world do the same thing on the same day?
For example I could propose that the 30th of september, every one of us tried to do one random act of kindness. What do you think would happen? Could it affect us all in a positive way?
The date could be set one year in advance to make sure that many get the message, but as information can spread like fire in the right circumstances maybe it would not be necessary to wait that long.
So, would somebody be interested in an experiment like that? What can each and all of us do by simply being kind towards others?
Why not try? We got nothing to lose.
I am a 29-year-old girl from Norway where I work as a psychologist. On my free time I love to read, travel and experience new things. I also like taking photos and creative activities like scrapbooking and decoupage. My personality? For those of you who know the BIG 5 personality test, I am high on Openness, Conscientiousness, middle on agreeable and on extroversion/introversion. It basically means that I`m a flexible person, work hard, usually don`t make a fuss and love to be with others, while also needing to be alone to think and calm down. I also want to add that I love the Italian language, my family, Haruki Murakami, good music and my friends. I am VERY emotional, but calm when I have to be. Earlier I had a tendency to put other`s needs first, believing that I wasn`t worthy of any attention myself. Luckily I have grown in heart and mind since then, and learnt that being there for others mean taking care of your own needs first.
This blog is a blend of my personal story (called narrative or the sound of..) topics related to psychology and just random things I find interesting. I work daily as a clinical psychologist, and most of my clients have been abused and neglected in heartbreaking ways. Many of my posts will cover subjects related to trauma and dissociation. I am quite open and honest in my posts, because I believe it might make us psychologist less mysterious.
Most of the psychologist I know are kind, intelligent people. Some with their own stories, but all with a genuine wish to help. In this blog I want to share what I know about overcoming challenges and following your dreams.
Since more and more people have started to read this blog, I unfortunately found it necessary to password protect some of my more personal posts. If you want to read them, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am also on twitter (@ninjafighter), instagram and Facebook. I also have two other blogs that are dedicated to psychology and the “Kindness project” that I started one year ago, You find them here: Free psychology and The kindness project.
In the last blog I post interviews with different people. I ask them questions about good things they do, and my hope is that their answers will inspire others to do be kind towards others. I have also invited guest bloggers to share their stories on “Free psychology”. They are brilliant writers, so feel to explore their story on this blog. I am always open to invite more bloggers who want to write, so feel free to contact me at any time if you`d like to write about topics relevant for the blog.
I started my blog three years ago, and it has grown so fast I almost can`t believe it. I am really proud of it, and grateful because I have made new friends and found other blogs that I like.
I want to thank all my readers and offer some encouragement to everyone who suffers or have done so in the past. I have been in the deepest valleys myself, and felt emotional pain so intense that I was afraid of it.
I hope this blog might prove that the fight for a better life is worth it.
- What Are the Different Types of Psychologists and What Do They Do? (psychology.about.com)
Bringing bipolar into focus
Everyone’s looks a little different
By Elizabeth Forbes
Imagine a big museum filled with widely varied portraits. The shimmering figure in an ornate gold frame runs up his credit cards, cruises the bars and takes off on spontaneous trips every spring. Next to him is a monochrome image with just a splash of red—a man who mostly lives with depression but has a one-off manic episode in his past.
Over here is a woman photographed in vibrant color, reflecting the exuberant feeling of her hypomanic episodes. Facing her is a Cubist image which conveys an uncomfortable mix of twitchy energy, irritability and a kind of wired-up unhappiness. A tiny canvas represents symptoms that pass in days, while a mood that persists for weeks takes up a wall-sized tapestry.
In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM for short), psychiatry has done its best to capture all those individual shades of experience and boil them down to a set of common criteria for bipolar disorder—or rather, bipolar disorders, because there are a handful of different diagnoses under the bipolar umbrella.
If you can’t count on that stability, it makes life extremely difficult.
At the far manic end of the spectrum sits bipolar I disorder. Next comes bipolar II: depression with a helping of hypomania. Then there’s cyclothymic disorder, which describes frequent mood shifts that never reach a full-blown episode of depression or mania, and a category previously known as “not otherwise specified,” used for conditions that don’t precisely fit the other categories.
Bipolar II is often seen as a milder or “softer” form of the illness than bipolar I. Not so, says Ellen Frank, a professor of psychiatry and psychology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of the Depression and Manic Depression Prevention program at the medical center’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.
In bipolar II, she says, “the depressions … can be so disabling and so long-lasting. The manias of bipolar I disorder are very dramatic and get people’s attention and yes, people can do a lot of financial and interpersonal damage during mania, but we know how to treat mania quite well. We’re not so good at treating either bipolar I or bipolar II depression.”
Cyclothymic disorder may seem milder yet, but by definition the diagnosis means that a person’s stable periods don’t last more than two months. “If you can’t really count on whether you’re going to be excessively energetic or optimistic or excessively pessimistic and not able to get anything done—if you can’t count on that stability, it makes life extremely difficult,” Frank says.
“By definition” gets back to those common criteria in the DSM, which is the standard reference clinicians use for figuring out how to label a set of symptoms—and thus how to treat the underlying illness. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always play by the book. And when your particular portrait of bipolar disorder doesn’t mesh neatly with the DSM descriptions, it can be harder to develop a treatment plan that will really help.
Revisions to the DSM take aim at that disconnect. Frank was part of a group tasked with updating the section on bipolar disorder in the DSM-IV (or fourth edition), which the American Psychiatric Association put out back in 1994. She says the new fifth edition, called DSM-5, tries to get closer to what clinicians see in actual practice.
She says the group set out to address several problems, including “the incredible time lag between first symptoms and an accurate diagnosis … individuals who have bipolar disorder often wait 7 to 10 years for a correct diagnosis. That means they often wait 7 to 10 years for appropriate treatment.”
There are some things no amount of revising can fix. If someone doesn’t seek help because of stigma or some other reason, they’re not going to be diagnosed with anything. And an initial diagnosis of depression may actually be correct in the early stage of the illness, because hypomania or mania may not emerge until a good while later.
It’s really hard to pin down changes in mood.
What DSM-5 does try to tackle is the tricky job of ferreting out signs that indicate bipolar rather than unipolar depression. Primary care physicians may be getting more familiar with recognizing depression, but limited time with their patients and lack of comprehensive screening tools mean those elusive signs tend to go undetected. Even experienced clinicians may have a hard time “unless the individual is in a flagrant episode of mania,” Frank says.
According to clinical psychologist Eric Youngstrom, PhD, “There isn’t anything in the snapshot of bipolar depression that’s any different from any other kind of depression. The only way that we’re going to recognize that is by playing lifetime mood bingo, asking about all the different types of mood episodes in the past and in the present.”
Youngstrom is acting director of the Center of Excellence for Research and Treatment of Bipolar Disorder at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is also a professor of psychology and psychiatry. His clinic has been working on a “roadmap to better assessment” that plugs in a lot of information beyond DSM symptoms to make diagnosis more accurate.
To diagnose a mood episode according to DSM criteria, clinicians go down a checklist of symptoms that are set up in a “one from column A, three to five from column B” format. For mania or hypomania, Column A has included just one major symptom: “abnormally elevated, expansive, or irritable mood.” If you don’t answer yes to that, it’s usually game over.
However, mood symptoms tend to be an unreliable marker in clinical practice. For one thing, many people experience hypomania simply as better-than-usual life, a period of brilliant ideas, abundant energy and feeling great—so what’s the problem? This is known as “lack of insight.”
“We talk about onion and garlic symptoms,” says Youngstrom, using a metaphor he credits to the late Dennis Cantwell, MD. “Onion symptoms would bug us when we’re having them and garlic symptoms bug everyone else around us first. Depression is a bunch of onion symptoms. Hypomania is a bunch of garlic symptoms.”
From the perspective of people who are hypomanic, “They’re not talking too much, they’ve just got really exciting stuff that’s more interesting than anything anyone else is trying to say,” he says.
That goes double for mania—and the effect seems to linger even after an episode has passed.
In general, Frank says, “It’s really hard to pin down changes in mood. But when you ask someone, ‘Did your level of energy change or your level of activity change?’ generally retrospective memory is better.”
So the DSM-5 moves questions about changes in energy and activity level up from the “other” column to the top-priority section, in hopes of making it easier to identify people who belong on the bipolar spectrum.
According to Youngstrom, “it tends to be more culturally accurate as well. Thinking about bipolar as a mood issue tends to be a white, middle-class American way of thinking about the problem. Thinking about changes in behavior and activity level seems to work better across cultures.”
In another attempt to improve diagnosis, the former “mixed episode” is no more. Frank says very few people actually met the full criteria for a manic and major depressive episode at the same time, which was the requirement for a diagnosis of mixed episode, so the term was almost useless. DSM-5 substitutes “with mixed features” as a description (or specifier) that can be attached to the other types of mood episodes.
The clinician now has a way to indicate “depression mixed with a little bit of hypomania or mania mixed with some depression,” Frank says. Not only is that far truer to reality, but it’s another opportunity to shorten the time to a bipolar diagnosis—even if it’s that amorphous “not otherwise specified” (now dubbed “other specified” in DSM-5 for bookkeeping reasons.)
Beyond that, the new mixed-features specifier “has implications for prognosis, in that we know that this episode is going to be more difficult to treat,” Frank explains.
That’s really the end goal of the naming game: matching medications and psychotherapeutic approaches to the situation at hand. Of course, there’s no way a rigid set of criteria can account for the many facets of experience. A thorough psychiatric evaluation will look at much more, such as an individual’s work and home life, risk factors such as family history, and relevant medical conditions.
Individuals…often wait 7 to 10 years for a correct diagnosis.
“The DSM doesn’t cover all the possibilities, all the pictures that clinicians see as we’re working with people,” Youngstrom notes. On the other hand, “it gives us a language and a set of descriptions to use.”
When someone seems to fit the definition for bipolar II, for example, “it tells us that their depression is not going to respond the same way to antidepressants or to other treatments, so we would want to manage the depression differently.”
To make it easier for you to join the conversation, here’s a rundown of the various bipolar diagnoses.
Although depression is the prevailing mood state for many people who have a bipolar diagnosis, it’s the manic symptoms that dictate which particular diagnosis is given. Even one full-blown manic episode during a person’s lifetime—regardless of history of depression—equals bipolar I. However, there is an exception in each category for mood episodes caused by a medical condition or drug, legal or otherwise. Manic episodes are hard for observers to miss (although the person in mania may not see it), so that a diagnosis of bipolar I often occurs when someone has been hospitalized or has a brush with the law, or relatives insist on getting help.
This diagnosis calls for at least one lifetime episode of major depression plus at least one hypomanic episode. It can be challenging for clinicians to distinguish bipolar II from major depressive disorder because people may not even recognize hypomania. “They’ve got more energy than usual, they’re more creative than usual, but they’re not experiencing it as a problem,” Youngstrom says. And when he’s asking about past history, “people will remember if they’ve been hospitalized or gotten arrested, but anything less severe than that doesn’t seem as important once time has passed.”
This diagnosis indicates “there’ve been mood issues that haven’t gotten all the way to a depression, haven’t gotten all the way to mania, but they’ve lasted a long time,” Youngstrom says. Specifically, periods of manic symptoms and periods of depressive symptoms occur frequently over the span of at least two years, causing significant distress but never qualifying as a diagnosable mood episode. Moreover, the individual doesn’t stay symptom-free for more than two months at a time.
Other Specified Bipolar
Formerly called Bipolar Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, this is a kind of stopgap when symptoms don’t clearly indicate one of the other bipolar diagnoses. For example, hypomanic periods recur without any depressive interludes, or there are near-hypomanic episodes that don’t last four days or don’t have the right number of symptoms. DSM-5 gives more specifics on the various options for “other specified” and pushes for more documentation on “why the person doesn’t meet the full criteria for bipolar I or bipolar II,” Frank says. “It gives us more clinical information about how to treat, about prognosis, and so on.” (The name change makes DSM-5 consistent with the International Statistical Classification of Disease and Related Health Problems, a listing compiled by the World Health Organization.)
This is not actually a diagnostic category. Rather, it’s a “specifier” that is added to the diagnosis to indicate that four or more separate mood episodes of any stripe occurred within a single year. It’s also a widely misunderstood term, often used to describe symptoms that fluctuate by the day or even the hour. Youngstrom prefers “rapid relapsing” or “rapid episoding” to indicate the pattern of distinct but recurring mood shifts. “What that tells us is that even if we get you back to where we want you, we have to be on guard for relapse because this has jumped you already four different times in the past year,” he explains.
With psychotic features
This specifier can be applied to either a manic or depressive episode to indicate a break with reality, such as hallucinations (seeing or hearing things which aren’t there) and delusions (believing things that aren’t true). Hearing voices, receiving special messages, taking on a different identity (often that of a religious or famous figure), and being convinced of a special mission (again, often religious) are common psychotic symptoms. Paranoia and disordered thinking (not making sense) are other hallmarks of psychosis. Catatonia (paralysis of movement and speech) can occur during severe depression.
With mixed features
This new specifier takes the place of “mixed episode” and can be applied when depressive features are present during an episode of mania or hypomania—Youngstrom uses the metaphor of vanilla ice cream with fudge swirled through—or features of mania or hypomania are present during an episode of major depression, which would be chocolate ice cream with marshmallow swirls.
With anxious distress
This specifier was added to indicate symptoms of anxiety that don’t meet the full criteria for panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder or one of the other anxiety disorders. “This is an attempt to recognize the fact that even anxiety that doesn’t meet the full criteria for a disorder is something important to note and has implications for treatment,” Frank says.
Several elements must be present to diagnose a manic episode. First, there must be a distinct period during which there are marked changes in mood—abnormally elevated (on top of the world), expansive (flamboyant, filters off), or irritable—and goal-directed activity or energy level. Next, the uncharacteristic behavior or mood must last at least a week, or require hospitalization. Third, there must be at least three other symptoms (or four if the abnormal mood is irritability) from the following checklist:
• inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
• decreased need for sleep (for example, feeling rested after just a few hours’ sleep)
• more talkative or sociable than usual, or pressure to keep talking
• flight of ideas or the feeling that thoughts are racing
• easily distracted by unimportant or irrelevant things
• Increase in activity levels, either goal-directed (such as taking on new projects or socializing more) or a restless busyness
• plunging into reckless activities like buying sprees, promiscuity or high-risk business deals
Furthermore, symptoms must significantly affect the ability to manage at work or school, pursue usual social activities, or maintain relationships.
If manic symptoms last at least four days but less than a week, the episode is deemed hypomanic. Symptoms don’t interfere too much with work, relationships and usual pursuits—in fact, hypomania often brings a sense of feeling energized and able to accomplish more—but changes in sleep and behavior mark a distinct departure from the norm and are noticeable to others. Judgment may be shaky. Hypomania is often a border state leading into or out of mania, and sometimes alternates with depression. For some people, hypomania can induce irritability and agitation (dysphoria) rather than a productive high (euphoria).
Major depressive episode
Diagnosis relies on five or more symptoms co-occurring nearly every day, for most of the day, during a two-week period. One of the symptoms has to be either low mood (feeling sad or empty, crying frequently) or significant loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities. Other possible symptoms include:
• weight gain or weight loss (when not dieting), or an increase or decrease in appetite
• inability to sleep or sleeping too much
• observable restlessness or moving uncharacteristically slowly
• fatigue or loss of energy
• feelings of worthlessness, excessive guilt or inappropriate guilt
• diminished ability to think, concentrate, or make decisions
• recurring thoughts of death or suicide
In addition, the symptoms must cause significant distress or impairment in everyday life.
I’ve always loved the autumn. When I drove home after work today I had to force myself to not look too much around me. The temptation of being sucked into the red and yellow colors, did not go together very well with my ability to drive. But I looked out at the trees caressing the mountains as often as I could.
On Sunday, I will go kayaking for the first time in many years. I look forward to sitting inside the tiny kayak resting on the water, looking around me. Feeling the calm settle inside me. Putting my warm clothes on, feeling safe and at home. Because sometimes being outside is like being at home.
I have had a good day at work, with interesting meetings and memorable conversations. I have also had some time to read a bit, and came across two interesting metaphors. In addition, a doctor I work together with, also pulled a metaphor up his sleeve, and when I came down to my office, I had to write them all down. Then I got the idea? Wouldn`t it be great with a book full of metaphors (it probably exists already, but an update is always welcome) ? And then I started to wonder:
Do you have metaphors fitting for life in general and for psychotherapy?
Have you ever been close to death? If you have, you might have experienced how time can stretch out, giving you time to think and react in an almost impossible way. People who’re in car accidents describe how their whole life are replayed in their mind, in mere seconds. A million of thoughts soar through them at the same time, and milliseconds feels like minutes.
One day many years ago I feel into a grave. Not an ordinary grave, but a hole in the ground used to fix buses. At that time, I was in a relationship with an employee at a bus company, were he repaired buses. On that particular day, I joined him at work, and wanted to explore his work place. He was immersed in repair-work, so I started to get bored from waiting for him to finish. I said I would take a round inside the building, and would be back soon. He nodded his agreement absentmindedly, and I started to walk around. My eyes took in the fascinating place around me, but I didn’t look beneath me. It was completely dark, just some lights from the windows. My steps echoed in the hall that was empty except for busses. I was so intrigued by it all, that I just kept on going, taking it all in. I remember clearly my last step before I fell. Suddenly there was nothing under my feet, and I started plunging to what I thought would be my death. Time stopped and began at the same time. I was flooded with memories and thoughts that were surprisingly clear. I saw my brother, and knew he would miss me when I was gone. At the same time I thought: ‘What happened?’ and ‘How far down is it, will I die?’. I had no time to be scared, I was more shocked than terrified. It felt like I fell forever, so I thought I was falling really far and that I would hit the ground and break my neck. After what was merely a second, I hit the bottom with a thud.
I was so surprised that I still lived. Relief flooded through me at the same time as I wondered if this was heaven. But heaven was awfully dark, so I hoped I might still be on earth and not in the ever-after. Is this how Alice felt when she fell into the rabbit hole?
My boyfriend had heard the thump, and while I was still in the land of confusion, he came running towards the grave. I don’t quite remember how he got me out of it, but I remember the relief. I was really still here, and I was unharmed. Somehow my body had reacted automatically, and protected me from the impact. My leg hurt a little, but I was actually smiling and felt no pain. Adrenaline was still pumping, making me feel more alive than I’ve ever been.
It is strange how much can happen in just one second.
Have you noticed the fact that many of the most famous songs, are about circles. A song is actually the same: A wheel turning, back to the chorus like a boomerang. Have you heard “spinning around” by Kylie Minogue? “Round round” by Sugababes, “Circles” by christina aguilera? “Circle the drain” by Katy Perry? Or why not roll through the river, sit down on a burning ring of fire, while what goes around, comes around? Or do you just sit there, waiting for the circle full of life?
Life is a cycle. From one period of time, the wheel turns. We are born, grow up and die. Our bodies sink into the earth, where we are transformed to something else. The universe turns around itself, creating new worlds and stars. It expands and creates at the same time as it collides and destroys. We have spiral galaxies, with forces that hold the parts furthest away, in their place. In that way, you can be turned and twisted and still stand safe in one place. You can be in the eye of the storm, and look up at the sun and moon that turns around you, showing you how everything continues even when you feel it has all stopped.
In our lives, we repeat patterns, afraid of getting stuck or getting into something that hurts. But what we don`t see, is that even if things go around and around, even when it feels like nothing changes, we bring things with us everytime we go around in circles. We find objects that can catapult us forward, that can bend the neverending rollercoster and let us travel in a safe line. We learn to fly, to soar and look down at where we are and where we need to go. We meet people on our way going through the same recycling pattern, but in the other direction, showing us that it is possible to go back and forth. That there is so much we can see around us even when we feel everything is the same.
Every time another cycle begins, there are slight changes. Animals and nature changes through evolution, until something new and stronger is created.
Dropping a stone in a calm pool of water will simultaneously raise waves and lower troughs between them, andthis alternation of high and low points in the water will radiate outward until the movement dissipates and the pool is calm once more. Yin and yang thus are always opposite and equal qualities. Further, whenever one quality reaches its peak, it will naturally begin to transform into the opposite quality: for example, grain that reaches its full height in summer (fully yang) will produce seeds and die back in winter (fully yin) in an endless cycle.
Sometimes the natural cycle is completely halted as a mutation or catastrophe in the environment change the direction, that smooth turning of the wheel. When this happens, adaption is necessary. It is a chance to create something new, to put a new vehicle on the wheel, making it go faster and further than before.
These thought keep going around in my mind. Spinning before they stop on the same idea that has been circling in my mind for three years now. What if we started a new cycle? What if we all tried to set a date to do one good thing for another human being and see where the cycle leads us? What if we jump unto the wheel all of us, using the force of many to drive forward?
10 Movies that Depict Mental Illness
What makes these 10 movies that depict mental illness so compelling?
Media has long been fascinated with mental illness. It has been depicted in almost every genre of film from horror (Shutter Island) to romantic comedy (50 First Dates). Sometimes these depictions are good and sometimes they are more than a little problematic. And we as an audience are so fascinated with mental illness. You can see it in reality television, our current debate about gun control, and of course film. These films often sensationalize what it means to have mental illness, even in cases where the films are based on true stories. They should not be viewed as accurate portrayals of mental illness. Nevertheless, we are going to explore what these films depict and how well they do it.
10. Sucker Punch (2011)
This visual feast of a film explores mental illness in a way that is truly unique among films. Babydoll is locked away in an institution in order to cover up the murder of her sister. Her stepfather is easily able to bribe an employee of the institution and the wheels are set in motion to have Babydoll lobotomized. In order to escape the harsh reality of her situation, she retreats into elaborate fantasy worlds including a steampunk World War 1, a brothel, feudal Japan, and a medieval castle complete with a fire breathing dragon, and a train armed with robotic guards. All the while we are shown the actual events that are mirroring Babydoll’s fantasy world. In the end her disassociation may be the only thing truly saving her from a life of misery. Zack Snyder uses the setting of the asylum to play out this incredible fantasy world. It is visually stunning and an incredible view if you haven’t seen it. But if you’re looking for an accurate portrayal of dissociative identity disorder, this movie may not be what you are looking for.
9. Wristcutters: A Love Story (2007)
A comedy about suicide? That seems…dark. Which is exactly what this beautiful and funny movie is. This film almost serves as an in-joke to everyone who has contemplated suicide. It takes place in the afterlife for people who have killed themselves. No, its not hell. No, it’s not heaven. It’s something else entirely. According to this film, death by suicide awards you a ticket to a world that is pretty much like the one we are in only just a little bit worse. You still have to get a job, pay rent, and be a responsible adult. Except you’re surrounded by people who are just as depressed as you are, no one can smile, and everything is just slightly gray. Of course our hero Zia also manages to fall in love with a woman who seems just a little too vibrant for their world. She keeps insisting that someone made a mistake and that she certainly didn’t commit suicide. So they go on an adventure to find the people in charge so that they can correct this mistake. Zia doesn’t quite believe her but he’s falling in love with her so he goes along with what she says. It’s a very funny and quirky movie that explores an interesting concept and really speaks to people who have lived this experience.
8. American Psycho (2000)
There are a lot of people who argue that Patrick Bateman is violently antisocial. And we definitely think this film supports the incorrect association between violence and mental illness. But we think most analyses overlook at major fact. We think these people fail to grasp the end of the film. When it turns out these were all fantasies of his. Now having fantasies about murdering people may certainly indicate that someone has antisocial personality disorder but we think there is a more interesting angle to approach this from. He is having serious issues distinguishing his intensely violent fantasy life from his real life. Obviously this is only one level that this film exists on. It is also a very radical rejection of the yuppism of the 1980s. It also takes materialism and wealth obsession to a whole new level. The violence has made this film both a huge controversy and a cult classic and it is certainly deserving of a place on this list.
7. Black Swan (2010)
Black Swan is an incredibly macabre tale about the dangers of perfectionism and distorted body image. Nina struggles with her dual role as the white swan and the black swan. This struggle is embodied with her conflict and attraction to her understudy Lily. She also struggles with sexual harassment from the director. She continues to be plagued by distressing delusions including an imagined sexual encounter with her archnemesis Lily. She also imagines she is turning into the black swan, feathers and all. Her world continues in a downward spiral as the show gets closer and closer. It is strange that so many apparently missed that Nina struggles with mental illness. She is clearly haunted by perfectionist tendencies and sexual issues. She doesn’t allow herself any kind of freedom. A fact only reinforced by her domineering mother. Its horrifying to watch unfold.
6. Donnie Darko (2001)
This one may cause some controversy for its place on our list. After all, is this a film about mental illness? Is Donnie Darko mentally ill? Or is this a fantasy film about time travel? Is it real? Or is it fake? And that’s exactly the struggle Donnie faces as the film progresses. Are his visions of time travel real? Or is he having a break from reality? Either way this is an incredibly good film that has gone on to become a cult classic. And its soundtrack is amazing. There is something about this film that people find a connection with. Maybe we are drawn in by the darkness of the film. Or perhaps it is Donnie that we cheer for. He stands up for a girl who is being bullied and tries to fight against what he sees as the horrors of the 1980s. It is also one of the only films to portray a schizophrenic person as non-violent and likable. We LIKE Donnie Darko. We want him to prove time travel can be done and win the girl.
5. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
This is a classic film depicting mental illness and we could not possibly miss it on this list. It shows the brutal treatment of the mentally ill in institutional settings where humiliation, electroshock therapy, and lobotomies are all tools in the institutional arsenal used to keep patients in line. But one of the most amazing things about this film is how it truly humanizes the patients. And obviously Jack Nicholson does an incredible job in his performance. We want him to escape. And we want him to take all of these amazing and interesting men with him. But of course, that’s not really the way the story can end. But it is beautiful nonetheless. If you have never seen this film we strongly recommend you check it out. It’s a classic.
4. Requiem for a Dream (2000)
Requiem for a Dream may be one of the most disturbing films ever made. It isn’t terribly violent. There isn’t too much sex. It is just disturbing. It looks right into the face of what it means to be addicted to drugs. And even when we want to look away it never lets us. It destroys stereotypes about who uses and why they use. And it leaves us chilled to the very bone when we examine not only the consequences of drug use but also the consequences of our current medical model and the harsh stigma against drug use and the effect it has on addicts. But don’t worry about the glamorization of drug use. It certainly does not do that. Drug abuse is portrayed as an ugly nasty monster that takes over the lives of good people and makes them do bad things. It is probably one of the most honest views of addiction out there.
3. Prozac Nation (2001)
We would encourage anyone who has ever experienced major depression to at least check out the book that this film was made from. It really gives an interesting view on the history of depression. Because people were depressed long before antidepressants and Lizzie experiences what it means to be depressed and unable to find effective treatment. Lizzie medicates herself with sex, drugs, and other forms of escapism. She attempts to kill herself and is completely unable to cope with reality. She throws all her success and opportunities out the window. She destroys her relationship with her mother. And why? Because she’s depressed. And therapy isn’t working. And nothing seems to be working until they put her on a new medication that seems to finally ease her suffering.
2. The Hours (2002)
The Hours is a film that tells the story of three women living parallel lives. One is Virginia Woolf who is struggling with bipolar disorder while attempting to write Mrs. Dalloway. The second story concerns a despairing housewife in the 1950s who attempts to escape her unhappiness by reading Virginia Woolf, attempting suicide, and finally choosing to escape by choosing to live. Finally we are left with a woman planning a party. She is living out the life of Mrs. Dalloway and is attempting to throw a party for one of her good friends who is dying of AIDS. She puts on a smile but she seems to be empty on the inside. All three stories are tied together by mental illness and suicide. They all struggle with being their true selves while also making the people around them happy. They are all confined in narrow roles. They each ultimately must choose their own fates.
1. We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
This is also an incredibly haunting film about mental illness. And given the recent mass shootings, it is a film that has even more meaning. It follows the story of a mother raising a young child. Their relationship starts out on a sour note when she finds herself pregnant and miserable. The two of them have conflicts even when he is a small child. He seems to take pleasure from hurting her and she finally snaps and throws him against a wall breaking his arm. We aren’t sure if we are horrified by her actions or sympathetic. This child is a monster. And it only continues to get worse as he gets older. He is seriously violent towards his little sister eventually causing her to go blind. He seems to enjoy the fact that he is ruining his mother’s life. He goes into class and shoots fellow classmates with a bow. But not before killing his little sister and his father. We are only left to wonder why he spared his mother. Does he identify with her? Does he feel that he can hurt her more by letting her live?
Honorable Mentions: Twelve Monkeys (1995), The Deer Hunter (1978), The Iron Lady (2012)
I love reading books. Especially book that makes you think about your own life, or give you a glimpse into a world you didn’t know excited. Furiously happy is one of these books.
In her new book, FURIOUSLY HAPPY, Jenny explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.
According to Jenny: “Some people might think that being ‘furiously happy’ is just an excuse to be stupid and irresponsible and invite a herd of kangaroos over to your house without telling your husband first because you suspect he would say no since he’s never particularly liked kangaroos. And that would be ridiculous because no one would invite a herd of kangaroos into their house. Two is the limit. I speak from personal experience. My husband says that none is the new limit. I say he should have been clearer about that before I rented all those kangaroos.”
“Most of my favorite people are dangerously fucked-up but you’d never guess because we’ve learned to bare it so honestly that it becomes the new normal. Like John Hughes wrote in The Breakfast Club, ‘We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it.’ Except go back and cross out the word ‘hiding.'”
FURIOUSLY HAPPY is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it’s about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways-and who doesn’t need a bit more of that?