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Egenis · News

Stigma and ‘The Soloist’



A film screening stimulated an interesting discussion about living with psychiatric illness.


More than 60 people went along to Exeter’s RAMM on Friday afternoon for a film screening and discussion centring around mental illness.

More than 60 people came along to Exeter’s RAMM for the film screening and discussion.

The screening of the Joe Wright-directed film The Soloist was organised by Egenis, and Senior Research Fellow Dr Susan Kelly was one of the speakers who started off the discussion afterwards. The other was psychiatrist Dr Daniel Racey of the University of Exeter Medical School.

The Soloist, which stars Robert Downey Jr and Jamie Foxx, is the story of a brilliant musician who is living on the streets following what appears to be a psychotic episode. Dr Kelly explained that the film was chosen because it touches on the difficulties those with psychiatric illness often experience in creating some sort of order in their living arrangements, working lives, and relationships.

She explained that she and researcher Dr Anna Harris have been working on a project looking at attitudes towards genetic testing for psychiatric disorders, which led them to arrange the event as an opportunity to stimulate conversation about something for which there isn't much public space to consider and talk about, specifically the stigma frequently experienced by those with mental health issues. The researchers posed the question whether discovering a biological basis for psychiatric disorders might lessen the stigma often encountered by the mentally ill?

Dr Racey said that he didn’t care for the term ‘stigma’, preferring the word ‘prejudice’. Although he found the film an interesting starting point for discussion, he was concerned that it reproduced some stereotypes, especially that people with mental illness might easily become violent.

There was lively discussion about the film. Some had found aspects of it quite compelling and even quite powerful, while others found that it was overly negative or didn’t reflect their own experience. Many in the audience were service users, and expressed their frustration about the attitudes they or their relatives encounter, and about a lack of treatment options and sometimes of support.

"We hoped that the event would provide a space and a stimulus for people to express their opinions." said Dr Kelly. "We are very grateful to all those who made the time to come along, and thank everybody for contributing."

If anyone is interested in participating in research into the issues around psychiatric disorders and genetic testing, please contact Egenis - telephone 01392 725140, or email egenis@exeter.ac.uk. And do let us know about future events that seek to raise awareness of issues of stigma regarding persons living with mental disorders and family members/carers.


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