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The Simpsons can boost your mental health
Helen Carter
ABC Science Online
Friday, 27 April 2007

The humour of The Simpsons can reduce the stigma sometimes attached to mental health issues, a psychiatry conference will hear next week.

Simply acknowledging mental health on such a popular television show might help 'normalise' the illnesses, say Australian trainee psychiatrist Dr Hannah Mendelson and director/cinematographer Gil Poznanski from Melbourne.

And it means viewers, especially children, who may later have a mental health crisis, might not feel so isolated as they relate back to a Simpsons character or experience, Poznanski says.

The pair will tell the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists congress on the Gold Coast next week that humour can be a vehicle to address important issues.

And animation, which they say 'gets away' with more than usual film, can perpetuate or combat stereotypes of mental health.

In one episode, for example, Homer attempts to cure his depression with his 'homemade Prozac' mixture of chocolate and ice-cream after he is unable to get help.

"Homer says 'My last chance is homemade Prozac'. Even though he's an idiot, he acknowledges an antidepressant could help," Poznanski says.

Other positive portrayals include psychiatrist Dr Marven Monro, one of the strongholds of the fictional community of Springfield, and an alcoholic becoming an astronaut when temporarily off the booze.

Mendelson, a psychiatric registrar with Box Hill Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, says numerous episodes portray psychiatric institutions and mental health problems including depression, phobias, alcoholism, stress, self-help groups and 'nervous breakdowns'.

"Episodes focusing on mental health have actually been quite sympathetic but sometimes throwaway lines have been derogatory showing stigma, such as the normally sensible Marge saying 'it must've been a mental patient' or references to a loony or loony bin," she says.

But Poznanski believes the power of The Simpsons is it 'shows it like it is' and is not politically correct.

"They accept it as part of real life. Other shows might gloss over it but the program deals with it head-on using humour," he says.

Channel 10, which airs the program in Australia, had no comment. Fox in Australia and the US did not respond when approached for comment
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