Tuesday 16 November 2010

Grief and A Single Man by Paul Keedwell

Below is an essay by Dr. Paul Keedwell from the MRC CNGG at Cardiff University and relates to our sciSCREENing of A Single Man in March.

This film is a study of a gay man in grief who contemplates suicide but over the course of one day finds solace in small pleasures. From a psychiatric point of view it deals with the overlap between grief and depression and the effect of prejudice on the mental health of society's stigmatized minorities. Concepts of 'normality' change in society over time and influence the practice of psychiatry. Homosexuality only became legal in the UK in 1967. In 1974 the American Psychiatric Association (APA) finally removed homosexuality from it's classification of psychiatric diseases, but this decision was ahead of the prevailing public opinion, which still regarded homosexuality as a deviant abomination. Many psychiatrists had never been happy with the medicalization of this common and enduring sexual preference. Freud himself excluded homosexuality from his own framework of neuroses, regarding it as a condition of self that was determined early in development and which did not lead to pathology provided the individual accepted his orientation. At the same time it was accepted by many psychiatrists that the condition was a result of "glandular secretions" and was a biological fact, not a chosen preference. In fact most members of the APA were hypocritical - concerning themselves with treating the conflict between the reality of an individual's sexuality and his internalized norms/religious beliefs, rather than the sexual orientation itself. The effect of prejudice on the health of the main protagonist in "A Single Man" is stark: we see him projecting of a false self, while secreting his loss. We understand that over time this has led to a worsening of the depressive phase of his grief, which almost ends in suicide. Fortunately the prospect of a new, less 'symbolic' relationship with someone who identifies with his sexuality brings him back from the brink. There is a positive life-affirming message in this story - that depression can lead to courage and spiritual and emotional growth. This topic is touched on in my book, How Sadness Survived*. *Keedwell P A. How Sadness Survived. Radcliffe, Oxford, 2008.

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