Mental Illness, Beauty, and Character Strength
In the poetic, experimental film Crooked Beauty: Navigating the Space Between Brilliance and Madness, director Ken Paul Rosenthal weaves photographic images and film of the mercurial weather patterns of the San Francisco Bay area with voice-over storytelling and artwork by activist/artist Jacks Ashley McNamara, a woman who suffers from a severe mental illness. This short film is stunning as a positive psychology film, one that depicts psychological struggle and turmoil, while simultaneously depicting the resilience, creativity, humanity, and ultimately triumph therein. The film elicits important questions for psychologists in the domain of mental illness and its treatment as well as the domain of positive psychological functioning. Here are some themes that offer reflection.
(1) In their PsycCRITIQUES review of Crooked Beauty, Larry Leitner and Hideaki Imai cite studies that have found people with schizophrenia can achieve better outcomes in particular treatment programs without medication. The pervasiveness of psychiatry and the medical model can often lead to the alternative: "The net result is that the client can be condemned to a lifetime of medication, and many of them will shorten the client’s life span by as much as 20 years." What do you believe are the limitations of psychiatric treatment? Should people with severe mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, be encouraged to employ treatments without medication, or should treatments only be selected in conjunction with medication?
(2) Many psychologists, such as Dean Simonton, have done studies on the interrelationship of creativity and mental illness. In the film, Jacks discusses this connection as it relates to her life. What about other character strengths in addition to creativity? Which character strengths are most important for people suffering from a mental illness to employ? What will help them become more resilient and triumph over their suffering? Is it the character strengths of hope, wisdom, spirituality, perseverance, zest, kindness, humor, or self-regulation that make the critical difference, or is it some intricate combination of these strengths?
By Larry M. Leitner and Hideaki Imai
PsycCRITIQUES, 2011 Vol 56(10)