ON MENTAL ILLNESS: The Efficacy of Mind-Numbing Television

Jack Bragen
Friday September 22, 2017 - 03:04:00 PM

Television watching is almost always a passive undertaking. It is not something that requires focus, like using a computer or playing a video game. It does not require that you do anything. You will not be tested afterward to see if you have learned the material.

An art instructor, a very long time ago, was complaining about budget cuts to his program, and said that art relaxes the mind. Television can also relax the mind, albeit it is often in a mostly idiotic way.

Everyone needs to rest their minds. Many people go to work every day, and I am not one of them, come home and need to obtain a little bit of escapism. If you are mentally ill, sometimes escapism and resting the mind are exactly the things you need to get off the track of worrying, being upset, and possibly having symptoms.  

Watching television doesn't involve taking a chemical substance. Yet, it can impact the operation of the mind in both good and bad ways. It captures the attention, it hypnotizes, and it gets you out of the box of worrying about yourself.  

Earlier this evening I was in my kitchen washing dishes, and this allowed me to focus on something other than any drama I might want to imagine in my life. My wife had the television on, and I watched a little bit of that. It was enough to distract me from any problems I could imagine having. 

Getting well from psychiatric illness entails that we sometimes forget about having problems. I am decreasingly viewing my life as a series of problems. Instead, I am increasingly viewing my life as a series of opportunities to gain enjoyment. 

The drama of trying to move forward in my writing career does not have as much emotional grip on me as it once did. The day-to-day drama of trying to get by in life as a disabled person, (and this includes dodging problems and "booby traps" created by people, companies and government) has less power to make me upset than it once did.  

If I can not enjoy my life now, I probably never will. 

A physician, speaking to an acquaintance of mine who has a chronic illness, suggested "stopping to smell the roses." None of us will be around forever. The role of television is that it can numb us out to our problems--exactly what the doctor might've ordered.  

If you are watching television every waking hour, it is likely to be a problem. However, people need rest, need escapism, and need to "zone out" some of the time.  

The ability to calm down is very important for many individuals who have a psychiatric illness. If the content of the program you are watching isn't violent, then even if it sometimes seems mediocre and boring, it can have a calming effect. Sometimes I like to watch television with the audio muted and try to guess at what is being said.  

There is some good television. I recently viewed some episodes of Chelsea Handler's talk show, and it is not the dumb stuff that much of television seems to be. Also, television news, while it is distorted in accordance with the agendas of advertisers and others, can keep viewers more informed than they otherwise would be.  

Television used to be referred to as "the electronic babysitter," because parents could put their kids in front of the tube, and it would keep them pacified and out of trouble.  

The value of being calm should not be underestimated. When someone with a mental illness can calm down and get into a relatively peaceful state of mind, many good things can flow from that.  

People who are not expected to have jobs are not without worries and problems. We can get stressed out just from driving around town and running a few errands. It can be a struggle to pay bills and maintain a budget. We may have frequent appointments due to mental health and/or medical conditions.  

No matter who you are and what your role is in society, your mind may not be immune to worrying about things. Meditation is one way of dealing with that. However, meditation can be an exertion. Television, on the other hand, is often an effortless way to get a reprieve from a troubled mind. 

Afterword: The newer, LED televisions have a bigger and better picture. However, more importantly, they do not emit the harmful X-rays and Gamma rays produced by analog TV's.