If I told you that the movie the title refers to has to do with mental health and is based on a book what Best Picture winner would you probably think of? 1975’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest? You’d be wrong. Yes while that movie was based on a book and does deal with mental health it’s not often over looked and more importantly it doesn’t provide a realistic view of mental illness at least not in our current day. The movie I’m talking about stars Donald Sutherland, Mary Tyler Moore, Judd Hirsh, Timothy Hutton and was Robert Redford’s directorial debut. The movie is 1980 Best Picture Winner, Ordinary People.
For those who haven’t seen the movie the focus is dealing with the aftermath of losing one son in a boating accident and the return of their younger son, Conrad (Timothy Hutton), from his stay in a psychiatric hospital after an attempted suicide. The father, Calvin (Donald Sutherland), acts awkwardly but warm and supportive to his son while his wife, Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), is cold and attempts to sweep everything under the rug in an attempt to return to “Normal”. Conrad begins to heal when he begins meeting with psychologist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsh).
This movie was released three and half decades ago and unfortunately the stigma of mental illness and seeking help still exists. One of the main points in the dynamic between mother and son in this movie is how she wishes he wouldn’t talk about going to the hospital or seeing his therapist. That’s utter nonsense. That’s like telling someone not to talk about breaking your leg and the physical therapy you went through to get you back.
Actually, I take back it’s worse, because going to physical therapy when injured is a no brainer but we haven’t yet reached that point with mental illness. If you’re struggling with something that not everyone can see it can be argued that it’s more important because you might inspire someone else to get help or provide them with information they’d not find otherwise. Not to mention that if you’re suffering through something that makes you feel alone and isolated being told not to talk about how you’re feeling probably will exacerbate this feeling.
This brings me to how the father reacts to his family situation. He’s awkward with his interactions with his son but he still is supportive of him. That’s OK because anyone close to you trying to commit suicide obviously conjures up some mixed feelings. Suicide is a selfish act and a child taking their life is taking away a parent’s most precious thing. But you also want to support your loved one in their recovery and show them that you are there to support them in even their darkest times. Calvin doesn’t shy away from his son’s illness, he embraces it and supports him.
I think that the most important part of this film is the title, Ordinary People. Often times in movies when a person with mental illness is shown it’s depicted in extreme examples but that isn’t the case. People with mental illness are ordinary people who need attention to a problem that isn’t seen. The simple title of this movie humanizes the issues, makes them relatable and that’s an important step towards de-stigmatizing mental illness.
Earlier this week Meryl Streep spent the duration of her Lifetime Acheivement Golden Globe Speech lambasting President Elect Donald Trump and other bullies and stood up for those who are outsiders as she reminded us how different we all are and yet can still come together. Last year during Leonardo Dicaprio’s Best Actor acceptance speech he used it as a platform to discuss environmental protection and global warming. Upon winning Best Actor for his work in The Godfather, Marlon Brando, who was protesting the event for the mistreatment of Native Americans in the film industry, sent up an actress named Sacheen Littlefeather to accept on his behalf.
There are hundreds of celebrities who support hundreds of causes and it’s time that one of them took up this mantle.
The genesis for this piece was the following Facebook Status:
My door is always open (just give me a 2 minute warning), kettle is always on and my sofa is always warm and a place of peace and non-judgement. I have ears and time to listen and just be still with you. Any of my friends near or far (if you are far away, my phone is always close by, PM me for my number and we can text, or message me on here) who need to chat are welcome anytime . It’s no good suffering in silence. I have tea & coffee in the jars and I will always be here …You are never not welcome!!
Blue Monday is a name given to a day in January (typically the third Monday of the month) reported to be the most depressing day of the year and January the worst month for depression and suicides, it’s always good to talk but even better to listen…….xx
Could at least one friend, please copy and repost. I’m trying to demonstrate that someone is always listening.
I’m glad to see that the support of mental health issues is slowly starting to lose it’s stigma but just posting statuses like these is not enough. Be a Calvin, support your family, friends, coworkers who are going through a tough time because you know that you’d want that support when something happens to you. I ask that you share this article with the aforementioned post and when someone does reach out you, make sure you reach back.
I’d like to leave you with some statistics from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness):
- Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5%—experiences mental illness in a given year
- Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S.—10 million, or 4.2%—experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities
- Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point during their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%
- Only 41% of adults in the U.S. with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year. Among adults with a serious mental illness, 62.9% received mental health services in the past year.
- Half of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14; three-quarters by age 24. Despite effective treatment, there are long delays—sometimes decades—between the first appearance of symptoms and when people get help.