Actress Sally Field and U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher led a symposium, sponsored by the Entertainment Industries Council, on mental health awareness and its portrayal in television and film on Jan. 10 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Satcher stressed the stigma society imposes upon various forms of mental illness and how Hollywood has the ability to disseminate information to many more people that the government can alone.
One in every five people suffers from a mental illness, but only one half of them actually are treated, he said.
People will talk about diabetes, cancer and heart problems, but are afraid to talk about mental illness, Satcher said. With proper portrayals of the victims of mental disorders, he added the stigma can be removed.
Field, known for her depiction of a woman with multiple personality disorder in the 1976 telepic Sybil, most recently played a mother with bipolar disorder in a story arc on ER.
She described her experience of immersing herself in such roles as a tool, and my task is to allow the fire that artists live with to connect with the character and go there with them. But sometimes I'm afraid I will not come back.
Neal Baer, M.D., a former executive producer of ER and a current producer of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, has been instrumental in positively presenting persons with mental siorders on his programs.
We need to try and not stereotype people with mental illness, Baer stressed to others in Hollywood, but not avoiding asking the tough questions viewers might have a problem with. We need to live with it to tell about it.