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Depicting Mental Health
From the outside looking in...

Brian NEW HeadshotA Message from EIC's President, CEO & Co-Founder, Brian Dyak

For our third newsletter, in this monthly series focusing on mental health, we turn the mirror around and look at other people’s reactions to mental health challenges and mental illness. Common ideas about mental illness, whether true or false, can perpetuate stigma even when we are unaware of it. For example, many families are afraid to come forward about the mental health challenges of a loved one or child because they feel shame based on their own preconceptions of what it means to be mentally ill. Oftentimes, even caring for people with mental illness can be stigmatized. As Dr. Ragins alludes in this week’s Doctor’s Note, fear is the enemy when it comes to reducing stigma and the false perceptions that come out of fear can only be broken down when we engage audiences with stories of acceptance and inclusion.

When exploring characters who are living with mental health challenges it is important to put people first and not their illness first. Sometimes, it can be too easy to separate the illness from the individual but if you want your character to be a whole person it is important to explore all parts of them including their symptoms. Consider how those symptoms interact with the other roles in their life whether they be a student, mother, neighbor, or executive. Portraying characters in this way will lead to stories that may be nothing like what your audience expects for the character, but instead simply showcases the reality of the life the character is living. Stories like these can take away an element of the unknown and create a sense of familiarity when it comes to mental illness.

Silver Linings Playbook
was very successful because the main characters pursued a touching and challenging romantic relationship while dealing with their mental illnesses. We recognized their feelings, even when they lost control, as common emotions rather than symptoms. The scene where a former coworker reacted to the main character entirely out of fear also showed how damaging it can be and how excluding fear can be.

In the end, if the public cannot accept someone, illness and all, how are those living with a mental illness ever supposed to accept themselves?

EIC's Mental Health Resources

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 In this issue...
  • A Message from Brian Dyak
  • Doctor's Note
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Suggestions for Depicting Mental Health
  • Profile On: The Soloist
 Doctor's Note
False perceptions about mental illness are not simply broken down by education. They are broken down by compassion, inclusion, relationships, welcoming and valuing. I’d rather have an internship where people with mental illnesses work at Walmart than give a lecture about mental illness to the Chamber of Commerce. Look for powerful role models of these behaviors – for example, Steve Lopez in The Soloist. Think about ways that you can document the positive effects these behaviors could have on someone’s mental illness and their lives. Also, consider what the negative effects might be when we fail to act with compassion and instead act with fear. Fear is the enemy. Fear causes separation, self-protection, and decreased compassion and emotional availability. People can make it through frightening events and still remain engaged if we support each other. “Normalization” is the goal when it comes to decreasing stigma and the media can play a huge role by normalizing this topic through characters and storylines that promote understanding and decrease fear.
 -- Dr. Mark Ragins

 Frequently Asked Questions
about Mental Health

What does stigma mean?
Stigmas are misperceptions about people that lead to discrimination and other negative consequences. Stigma may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about mental illness or treatment. Stigma may also include assumptions that people with mental illness could be unstable, violent or dangerous because they have a mental health diagnosis.

Negative assumptions can be more subtle, for example, that people with mental illnesses need to take medications to control their symptoms, or they’re unable to work or raise children, or should be discouraged from having intimate relationships all because “they can’t handle stress.” “Soft prejudices” like these can deprive people with mental illness of having productive, meaningful lives, in effect, segregating them from almost everything that makes life worth living.
 Click here for more FAQs

PRISM TrophyAnd the Nominees are...

Click here for a full listing of the 17th Annual PRISM Awards Nominees

 Suggestions for Depicting Mental Health

Suicide Prevention RoadsignsWhen depicting mental health challenges in your characters and storylines it is important to explore how the reactions of those around them both positively and negatively affect their personal feelings about their illness and the success of their recovery. Consider these suggestions when creating your stories about mental health challenges:

  • Where appropriate, try to show the consequences of unaddressed mental health challenges on the person who lives with it, as well as his or her family, friends, and community.
  • When portraying a character with mental illness, think about the effects a diagnosis and treatment have on the family and the importance of support in recovery.
  • Consider including scenes where someone has to reveal their illness to someone they care about – family, potential lovers, employers, landlords, even medical doctors. Scenes like this can provide you with the opportunity to explore how much we all struggle with accepting mental illness as part of our lives.
Profile On: The Soloist

Soloist PosterThe Soloist took home the PRISM Award in the category of Feature Film - Mental Health for its authentic portrayal of mental illness in the story of Nathaniel Ayers (played by Jamie Foxx) and Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey Jr.). In the film, Nathaniel is a homeless individual living with schizophrenia who also happens to possess a great musical talent. When Steve meets Nathaniel playing a two-string violin in L.A. he is driven to see beyond the stereotypes of a homeless man living with mental illness and instead helps him to embrace his talent while finding his own inspiration for a series of articles in The Los Angeles Times. By overcoming his own fears and becoming Nathaniel’s only friend, Steve becomes a powerful force in Nathaniel’s recovery even without medications or hospitalizations.

Characters like those explored in The Soloist show audiences the importance of perception. When it comes to mental illness, our own misperceptions can sometimes hold us back from seeing the full potential of an individual due to their diagnosis. Instead, this story encourages us to take the whole person, symptoms and all, and explore what their recovery looks like to them -- what goals they can and will accomplish, and what they might need to get there.

Think about how you can explore strong characters, like Steve and Nathaniel, in your creative efforts. How can your characters disprove common misconceptions about what it means to live with a diagnosed mental illness? How can they help your audience to accept mental illness and react to it with compassion and acceptance instead of fear?

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EIC's FREE Technical Assistance Resource 
to the Creative Community!

To set up your own FREE First Draft Consultation with one of our experts contact Ashley Jupin: 
or 818-861-7782
17th Annual PRISM Awards
The 17th Annual PRISM Awards are set to take place on April 25, 2013 at the Beverly Hills Hotel
Click here to RSVP!
Dr Drew and PRISM Cropped
Dr. Drew Pinsky hosts the
16th Annual PRISM Awards Showcase!
The 16th Annual PRISM Awards Showcase is available online at and

Click here for excerpts from this year's show and check out for updates!

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