Lynda Hirsch
First, do no harm
Posted Friday, October 19, 2012 6:11:04 PM
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She's known for her syndicated column and numerous television appearances. You can even find her work in the Smithsonian. Now, Lynda Hirsch brings her daytime experiences to the Internet -- exclusively on And look out because Lynda's got a lot to say when she's Lathered Up. In this installment, Lynda looks at those little errors that drive fans crazy.
I know a soap opera's first obligation is to entertain and, if possible, to educate. General Hospital's AIDS storyline, Guiding Light's importance of a PAP test, All My Children's Viet Nam war stance. The one soap obligation is to do no harm.

Repeatedly, daytime drama does a lot of harm when it comes to the treatment of mental health. I know because at 25, I had my mental health issues. If I did not get the treatments I needed, not to be overdramatic, I might not still be alive. For certain, I would have not had the fulfilling, wonderful life I have enjoyed over the decades.

Even shows I adore have disappointed me by their depiction of mental health facilities, treatments, and patients' behavior.

I loved One Life to Live. Over the years, it was amazing with the breadth of its coverage of social issues (including AIDS, homophobes, and all manner of social issues), and it entertained. The storyline I found offensive was the treatment of Jessica being given electroconvulsion therapy. The portrayal of how it was done was terrifying. It looked like a scene from Dr. Frankenstein's monster. Jess had almost complete memory loss. Over at General Hospital, there was a scene of Robin being given the therapy against her will.

I had three sessions of ECT back when it was called electroshock therapy. Here were my aftereffects: I did have some memory loss for a few days. Now I remember everything; ask any man I have ever dated -- forgetting is not my issue. I was tired. A week later, my year-long, deep depression disappeared.

No more crying, inability to eat, thinking everyone would be better if I was dead. Life was no longer a black hole.

I am not saying ECT is for everyone, but when all else fails, it is a viable treatment.

Dr. Susan Kimmel, a psychiatrist at University Hospital in Cleveland, finds ECT an invaluable tool.

"When medications and therapy do not work, this is the logical choice." Sadly, two of her patients who were candidates for ECT would not take the treatment because of the way it was portrayed on television -- soap operas in particular. One of them was so defeated by her depression that she committed suicide. The other one tried. She was not successful. After the attempt, she agreed to ECT. Two weeks later, she was feeling better than she had for years. I am not touting this as the be-all and end -all for everyone. However, it does work. It is a shame daytime drama inadvertently keeps people from getting help.

Thankfully, GH's storyline concerning Sonny being bipolar has been excellent. Much of the kudos goes to Maurice Benard, who has bipolar, insisting it be done correctly. The only issues I have, are when I see Sonny drinking alcohol. For a long time, Sonny said that was verboten. From time to time, he takes a drink. Not a good thing when a patient is on certain medications. The other thing is that whenever Sonny acts the fool, it is blamed on his illness.

People who are being treated for bipolar issues can still act stupidly. I am very careful about drinking alcohol. It can interact with the medication or cause serious health issues. The blog Living with Bipolar states alcohol has been demonstrated to interfere with the medications used for depression in bipolar disorder. Moreover, alcohol can also diminish the efficacy of the antidepressants. This evidently proves that alcohol not only impedes the treatment of bipolar disorder, but can also lead to aggravation of the disease, due to the medications being rendered useless or ineffective.

Given bipolar disease is predominantly a manic-depressive disorder, patients are advised to undergo talk therapy, along with the medications. Alcohol intake acts as an impediment during talk therapy, too, and the patient is incapable of utilizing it to his benefit. The other thing GH gets right is Sonny going off his meds. For some reason, that is a recurring problem with people on medication. They feel so good that they think they do not need the pills. Wrong! They feel good because they take the medication. It is akin to a diabetic stopping his insulin because his sugar levels are under control.

Now for the mental health issue every soap gets wrong: mental health institutions.

There is the old soap story that has the evil twin getting the good twin placed in a mental health ward. In the outside world, the evil twin is out and about while the good twin is locked away.

Over at GH, when Carly was in Ferncliff, she went in and out of the hospital like she was going through a revolving door. During my stay at a facility, trust me, you could not sneak out the door while the staff was having sex in the storage room.

Now we come to Heather. She is GH's resident "crazy." I even hate that term. I do laugh that Todd's phone ringtone for her is "Crazy Calling."

Heather just murdered her nurse at Ferncliff. Over the years, Heather has done many murderous things, all blamed on her mental illness. For the most part, people with emotional illness do not harm others -- they often harm themselves. Yes, of course there is the exception. Andrea Yates was obviously mentally ill when she drowned her children. Perhaps if she had been on the right medication and had been given the proper treatment, the children might be alive. Two weeks before their deaths, she was taken off her medications.

The portrayal of mental health professionals is abysmal. Ewan on GH is part of the plot to keep Robin hidden. Taylor on The Bold and the Beautiful: an alcoholic who allows herself to be degraded by a man for over 30 years. I would not let Taylor help me pick out a stick of gum, let alone help me with my mental status. Marlena on Days of our Lives has never had a patient who is not a relative or a close personal friend. Perhaps the most bizarre psychiatrist of all was Dr. James Wainwright on The Bold and the Beautiful; in homage to the movie Psycho, the mother he talked about was alive -- in truth, she was dead.

I know soaps have to take poetic license; all art forms do. Do it with poisoning of water supplies, doppelgängers, books being written and published within a week, and court cases taken to court a day after the crime, with sentences handed down two days later. Please stop messing with people's minds.

To read more of Lynda Hirsch's Lathered Up columns, please visit:

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