“stigmatising of mental health service users”

][1] Javier Bardem as baddie Silva with Daniel Craig in Skyfall. Photograph: Moviestore / Rex Features
Skyfail: why the new Bond villain perpetuates mental health stigma

Peter Beresford Professional, Monday 12 November 2012

If Ed Milliband really wants to challenge the stigmatising of mental health service users, then he should perhaps watch the latest Bond movie, Skyfall. Then, like me, he may be saying: please could this be the last of the franchise?

Given the appalling track record of western intelligence agencies (having failed to warn on the collapse of the eastern bloc, 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, Afghanistan, etc), blockbusters about secret agents don’t necessarily strike as offering the most interesting or convincing metaphor for our times.

It’s difficult to be persuaded that director Sam Mendes is a genius, when all he has actually done is repackage the machismo, the product placement, the division of women into mother figures and sexy sub-plots, and the constant killing, that might best be kept in a 1970s left luggage locker.

I have to admit though that I made a mistake about Skyfall before seeing it. I assumed that, in line with current political fashion, it would highlight terrorism as the evil of our age rather than the continuing conflicts between nations and ideologies. A superficial consideration of what passes for its plot might be misleading here. There is a lot of talk about terrorists. Most important, Bond’s nemesis, Raoul Silva, is presented as a terrorist.

However, this is not what the film is all about. Put in the simplest of terms, without the technology, the A-list actors, the incredible spend on every form of eye candy, from beautiful beaches to train crashes, and the impeccable abilities of the stunt teams, what this film is really about is a mad man. It never really gets said and the inadequate writing doesn’t really allow us to know what his back story is. (How did he get so rich? Why does he hate M?).

But the simple truth is that Silva, the villain, is off his trolley. Every stereotype from the grammar of film is here. We get the staring eyes, the sick smile. There’s the remorseless irrationality (what did Bond, his old Aston Martin and his Scottish house ever do to hurt Silva?). Most of all, there is the murderous unending threat and violence. Silva is just out of his tree, like all those other mental health service users ‘we’ read headlines about.

So where the 50th anniversary version of the Bond franchise has taken us is the crudest kind of mentalism and reinforcement of every crude childish fear and received wisdom about madness and mental health service users. It’s so much taken as given, that probably many ticket buyers won’t even notice it.

Ironic that this should be happening at the very same time that nursing staff interviewed about Jimmy Saville’s period of free rein in the high security hospital Broadmoor, could describe it as the “lunatics taking over the asylum”. No, it was Edwina Curry, then health minister, and pliable professionals who were in charge of the system. Any complaints that came from mental health service users who experienced abuse from Savile were, as in all the other settings that he was allowed to run amok in, ignored or spiked.

They have been a voice of reason that has gone unheard and denied. Stereotypes like Bond’s will do little to make life any easier for their successors.

Of course it could be that the corporate makers of James Bond, like almost every other powerful institution, from government to the media, have realised that people with mental health problems, are the one group it is still safe to stigmatise, stereotype and demean with little come-back. A safer target we may imagine than international terrorism, religious fundamentalism and other contemporary bogies – which might bite back.

One of the interesting features of this James Bond was some attempt being made to suggest his frailty. There might lie the road to redemption. Maybe this could move from him no longer being so hot on his marksmanship, to recognition of his potential for mental frailty – like the rest of us. Then it could be part of a more effective anti-stigma mental health campaign than we have now. This could result in key opinion formers like the owners of the Bond franchise realising they will need to look elsewhere for their crude storylines than the suffering and discrimination following from mental health problems.

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Credit: Guardian Newspapers:[http: //%20http://www.guardian.co.uk/social-care-network/2012/nov/12/skyfail-bond-villain-mental-health-stigma

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