Dr. Phil — no. Just no.
The talk show host recently came under fire when a video promo of a yet-to-be-aired interview with Shelley Duvall hit the internet. Titled "From Hollywood Star to Near Isolation: Helping 'The Shining''s Shelley Duvall," the promo for Dr. Phil's Friday (November 18) episode shows the 67-year-old former actress describing things she claims to see. And more than anything, the whole video is very, very sad.
"I loved Robin Williams," Duvall says of her "Popeye" costar. "I don't think he's dead. (I think he's) shape-shifting."
She also asserts that a man, "the Sheriff of Nottingham," is threatening her, and references an inexplicable "disc" in her leg. Both of these statements in particular sound highly indicative of dementia, which affects not only memory, but also perception.
"I'm very sick. I need help," Duvall appeals to Dr. Phil, to which he responds: "Well, that's why I'm here."
But that isn't why he's there. For someone who's clearly struggling with mental health and function to the degree Duvall is, there's little to nothing Dr. Phil, a TV personality, can do to remedy her situation. He's there for the ratings, of course, and to exploit Duvall's illness in order to get them, something he's being called out for online. Vivian Kubrick, the daughter of "The Shining" director Stanley Kubrick, tweeted an open letter asking that people join her in boycotting Dr. Phil.
Like Kubrick, others are voicing their disgust over Dr. Phil — and therefore, CBS's — decision to abuse Duvall's vulnerability for commercial gains. As one Twitter user put it, "Mental illness doesn’t deserve to be paraded on a TV like some carnival attraction." Another wrote: "If Dr. Phil really wanted to help #ShelleyDuvall he wouldn't use cameras to do it... exploitation. I hope she has some real support."
It doesn't seem like Dr. Phil is overly concerned about the backlash, though; on Thursday night (November 16), his official Twitter account tweeted a link to Duvall's interview, and it appears as though the full episode will still appear on-air Friday (November 18) at 3 p.m. EST. CBS did not immediately respond to Revelist's request for comment.
Unfortunately, Duvall's exploitation is just another example of the way society, and especially those in Hollywood, handle "discussions" of mental illness. And it needs to stop.
Media portrayals of mental illness like "Dr. Phil"'s Duvall episode only further that same "freak show" narrative. And there's good reason to think it could be having an affect on the way we treat discussions of mental illness in our own lives.
Like O'Connor said, bullying — which, it certainly can be argued, is what Dr. Phil is doing here — is a sure-fire way of perpetuating stigmas, something three out of four people with mental illnesses report experiencing.
In our celebrity-centric culture, seeing mentally ill famous people so consistently dragged over the state of their health testifies to the continuation of that stigma, and doesn't exactly encourage others with illnesses to speak up and seek help. According to the Association of Psychological Science, that's because the existence of public stigma often leads to its internalization.
"Displays of discrimination can become internalized, leading to the development of self-stigma: People with mental illness may begin to believe the negative thoughts expressed by others and, in turn, think of themselves as unable to recover, undeserving of care, dangerous, or responsible for their illnesses," a report published by the association says. "To avoid being discriminated against, some people may also try to avoid being labeled as 'mentally ill' by denying or hiding their problems and refusing to seek out care."
Thankfully, some celebrities with mental illnesses, like Demi Lovato and Lena Dunham, have turned public scrutiny on its head by becoming high-profile advocates for mental health, making the message handed down by Hollywood not exclusively a negative one. But as great as being a self-advocate is, that can't be the only form of encouragement people with mental illnesses see. They need community support, too, and a society that allows for open, de-stigmatized discussions of mental health.
To this end, we can do our part by following Vivian Kubrick's lead and boycotting programs, like "Dr. Phil," that treat mental illness like a joke.