HLTH2105 – HEALTH: A Psychological Perspective
This paper is based on The Black balloon movie (2008), an award winning film that features how autism affects one military family. From a medical point of view, autism is a development disorder that affects behavioural patterns of the affected person. The dominant characters in the movie are Charlie Mollison who suffers from Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder, Thomas Mollison – youngest brother to Charlie, Jackie – Thomas’ classmate who later became his girlfriend. Maggie Mollison and Simon Mollison are the parents of the two brothers. The character of Jackie will be used to show how physical and emotional support can help families cope with the pain of seeing their loved ones suffer because of Autism and Attention Deficit Disorder. Throughout the movie, the family struggles to control both the physical and psychological trauma associated with autism and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) that has afflicted their first-born son, Charlie. The entire Mollison’s family are supportive of Charlie and determined to find a lasting solution to the twin disorders that affect him. However, the situation is most difficult for Thomas who is in his early teen years. He feels embarrassed and uneasy about his eldest brother’s condition (The Black balloon, 2008). Charlie’s autistic condition often drives him to engage people in physical confrontations. The situation is worsened by the fact that he is an adolescent. He is usually relatively active and hardly settles down. For instance, an incident happened in the kitchen whilst he was under the care of his brother and father because their pregnant mother (Maggie) had to be admitted at the hospital. Charlie refused to take his usual medication, turned violent and broke a glass window using a kitchen stool. In a separate incident at the shopping mall, the father did not have adequate cash. Charlie caused a scene because he wanted certain items to be included in the shopping (The Black balloon, 2008). In spite of the incessant troubles brought about by the autistic Charlie, another source of hope and encouragement from Jackie works so well for Thomas. It is imperative to note that both Jackie and Thomas are classmates in the same school. Although they have not been very close before, Charlie’s case seems to unite them due to several reasons (The Black balloon, 2008). For instance, Jackie leads a lonely life since her mother passed away while she was young. She lives with her father, but unfortunately, he does not spend adequate time with her to communicate about her wellbeing. This is probably due to work commitments. However, he loves her and he is over protective of her as seen in the incident where Charlie broke into their home and used their bathroom. The father was involved in a physical altercation with Charlie before realizing the kid was suffering from Autism (The Black balloon, 2008).
When Jackie meets Charlie for the first time, she is not bothered at all with his unique and uncouth behaviour. Thomas is surprised by Jackie’s gesture. She welcomes Charlie and makes him feel comfortable in their presence (The Black balloon, 2008). For the first time, Thomas feels encouraged. Jackie attempts to demonstrate to Thomas that Charlie’s case is relatively normal and that there is nothing to fear about it. Jackie talks Thomas into accepting Charlie’s condition as it this would be the first step towards adopting better coping strategies in handling Charlie. Jackie vividly surprises Thomas when she proposes that they all go out with Charlie. Jackie’s entry into Thomas’ life is the beginning of a major turning point for the latter especially in regards to the autistic and ADD disorders affecting his eldest brother Charlie (The Black balloon, 2008). At some point in the movie, Jackie tells Thomas not to be worried about his classmates who often made fun of him upon discovering the condition of his brother Charlie. They learnt of Charlie’s condition when Thomas and Jackie alighted at their school. Charlie refused to let go of the two as he insisted to follow them to the point of alighting form his own school bus. A crowd gathered around Charlie and started making fun of him. This made him feel enraged to the point he turned violent. Two swimming instructors, a male and female tried to calm the situation but failed in their attempts. Charlie’s female teacher saved the day by succeeding to calm him and he agreed to get inside his school bus (The Black balloon, 2008). This incident teaches us that persons suffering from Autism and Attention Deficit Disorders need specialized care ( ). Jackie offers sympathy to Thomas to an extent that the latter feels relieved.
Thomas is a calm character, he is not very outgoing compared to his classmates. He is depicted in the movie as a newly enrolled student who is unable to learn how to swim (The Black balloon, 2008). It is highly likely that Thomas is psychologically disturbed with the damaging condition of his brother and this is why he is not free to associate with other students for fear of being ‘laughed at’ (The Black balloon, 2008). However, shortly after Jackie and Thomas became friends, other classmates started respecting him largely because of the fact he managed to win the friendship of Jackie who was an adorable and admired character in class. Any person associating with her would be respected as well (Seltzer et al 2004, p.270). Thomas was also able to learn how to swim within a very short time especially with assistance from his friend Jackie.
Throughout their friendship, Jackie appears to be very mature as she offers logical advice to Thomas in regards to his brother’s condition. Jackie advises Thomas to be less worried with the situation because he cannot change the reality. As time passes by, their friendship grows stronger as it is strengthened by prevailing realties in both families. It is interesting to note that they eventually enjoy the company of each other and ‘forget’ about biter situations that have been ailing them for a long period. During the preliminary stages of their friendship, it is clear that both of them find the much-needed solace that they have yearned for a long time. Eventually, Jackie obtains a sense of belonging in this new family bearing in mind that she lives with a widowed father who spends less time with her due to work commitments (The Black balloon, 2008). They play together and share many jokes and childhood experiences despite of their adolescent ages. Indeed, their childish behaviours when playing together in the family backyard are helpful in diverting Thomas’ attention away from his autistic brother (The Black balloon, 2008). It is also worthy to mention that Thomas is finally able to perceive Charlie in a completely different and positive way. He viewed his brother’s condition as any other ordinary occurrence in life. On the same note, Jackie felt loved and fully accommodated in this new family as can be seen when they share close moments and dinner together (The Black balloon, 2008). These ensuing paragraphs below take a critical look at the development effects of autism among individuals. In addition, the paper will discuss the relevance of the movie The Black Balloon with cross reference to the character of Jackie who appears sympathetic to the affected family. In order to understanding the various ways of coping with autism, developmental theories will be explored in the essay in relation to the character of Jackie.
Theories developed in the movie
According to the arguments presented by Erik Erikson, there is a high likelihood for an individual who looks after an Autistic patient to encounter a major psychological disturbance and become depressed if coping strategies are not developed (Barkway, 2009). The reason why such a scenario is possible is because there are eight unique stages of a development that an individual has to go through while alive. Although most of these conditions are easily diagnosed, some are quite latent and only manifested during the later development stages. It is against this backdrop that Erikson proposes coping strategies especially among individuals and families affected by an autistic patient (Barkway, 2009). Jackie inspires Thomas to develop a coping spirit towards his autistic brother (The Black balloon, 2008). Although she is still in adolescence stage, she exhibits high levels of understanding and maturity compared to her peers. It is also worth to mention that at her age, she is experiencing numerous physical and psychological developments. The emotional and social functions of adolescents are largely altered during the teenage years (Barkway, 2009). In order to remain in the most noble and expected path of development, Erikson observes that there is need to comprehend and derive meaning out of the various developmental changes since these changes may yield the actual disorders. His theory mainly focuses on development during adolescence since this is the period when rapid changes are recorded in an individual’s physical and psychological set up (Seltzer et al 2001, p.270).
Although adolescents are mainly known to value group identity, it is evident that Jackie’s case is quite different. She decided to form a strong friendship with Thomas even though the rest of the class had sidelined him due to his slow pace in swimming lessons. Erikson posits that the best stage of development when an individual can build a specific identity is during adolescence. From a careful review of The Black Balloon movie, it is definite that Jackie sought to build a certain line of identity with Thomas in order to find some solution to challenges facing her family. Although her friendship with Thomas could not provide any tangible solution to her broken family, Jackie found a new form of identity in this family since they accepted her as a family member. Another coping strategy that Erikson elucidates is the presence of healthy relationships or supportive individuals during psychologically difficult moments (Smith &O’Relly 2008, p.76). It is undoubtable that the psychological development of an adolescent child can be largely rectified with the help of an adult. From the movie, Jackie can be seen to spend more time with her newly found family as she recounts her experience. The military family listened to her ordeals and opted to amend her life by accepting her as one of their own. By so doing, this family assisted Jackie to discover her identity (The Black boon, 2008). Moreover, the character of Jackie has been positively developed throughout the movie as a positive-minded adolescent. She is capable of making the right decisions even as she interacts with various types of people ranging from her classmates to older persons. In spite of the psychologically perturbing scenario in her family, Jackie does not lose hope and self-esteem. She remains steadfast and quite composed. For example, Jackie is not bothered at all when she is associated with the autistic Charlie. She walks with him publicly and even shares dinner with his family. In other words, Jackie knows her identity very well.
The theoretical perspective of loss
Whenever physical, emotional or psychological resources of a person are minimised, the situation can be referred to as a loss (Ginette & Debra 2008, 57). As such, any form of loss can be grossly detrimental towards the wellbeing of an individual. In the movie The Black Balloon, there are myriads of loses depicted in the film. One of the most conspicuous of these loses is the one experienced by Jackie. Her mother died while she was young. She was left with an over protective father who spends less time with her because of work commitments. Literally speaking, Jackie did not have a close friend to confide her emotions before she met Thomas’ family. Her father communicated less with her to the extent it affected her health since the two did not have the time to prepare balanced meals as a family is supposed to (The Black balloon). The fact that Jackie sought solace in Mollison’s family indicates that the situation stressing her. If the ordeal would persist for long, she could have ended up into depression. The latter condition is a direct psychological loss to an individual. However, most psychological experts in the medical field propose that individuals who are under stress or depression ought to share out their experiences with others.
Factors that determine social health There are various myriads of social determinants of health in society. These are factors that affect a given population and end up interfering with both physical and mental health (Barkway, 2009). One of common social determinants of health is stress. Jackie is definitely stressed due to her shattered family. Her conversation with Mollison’s family reveals that she is psychologically disturbed with the absence of her late mother and poor communication with her father. It is imperative to mention that family breakdown is a social concern. However, the impacts of any form of family breakdown are devastating. Although the company of Thomas brought happiness into the life of Jackie, it is vital to note that Thomas was a source of worry for Jackie to some extent. This can be explained from the fact that Thomas was often bothered by the humiliation brought to him by Charlie uncontrolled behaviour. In fact, his classmates had already labelled him differently. Such experiences made Thomas sad most of the time. The condition of Thomas itself also stressed Jackie and this is why she decided to be in the company of Charlie just to ensure that Thomas was fine.
Psychological stress is indeed detrimental to an individual’s health. Actually, diseases such as CVD, HIV and clinical depression get worse in the presence of stress (Capps 2009, p.512).
Individuals who are capable of tolerating difficult situations are said to be resilient (Orsmond, Krauss & Seltzer 2004, p. 250). Garmezy notes that the ability to develop resilience during difficult moments is largely dependent on strong relationships, emotional support from seniors, high level of confidence, self-esteem as well as being emotionally mature. All the aforementioned factors are integral towards building resilience (Cohen, Brown & Smailes, 2001, 990).
It is no do doubt that Jackie demonstrated a very high level of resilience in spite of her tender adolescent age. For example, Jackie managed to maintain a strong relationship with her fellow classmates. Every student in her class respected her personal wit. This also explains why fellow students admired Thomas when he became a friend to Jackie. Secondly, Jackie overcame the effects of living in a boring home since her mother passed away. In spite of the stressful conditions she was going through, Jackie developed a sense of calm and belonging when she eventually found comfort in Mollison’s family. She did not just sit down and lament about her situation. Jackie’s confidence and self-esteem are also evident when she intervened in Charlie’s case by assuring Thomas that all was well and that there was nothing for him to worry about. As already mentioned in the paper, coping and resilience are closely related since none can do without the other (Barkway, 2009).
An implication for Health Professionals The Black Balloon serves as a good example of learning how to fit in and accept individuals with disabilities. Viewers can learn from how Jackie accepted the condition of Thomas’ brother, despite the various difficulties experienced from the society including rejection and discrimination.
The best way I would assist Jackie as a paramedic is by building a good communication with her through open discussion. I would start by sharing my intriguing life experiences with her so that she can be able to see that we are in the same situation. This would go a long way to support her emotionally. Secondly, I would encourage her to share with me her experience by assuring that the information shared will not be shared with third parties. I would also make sure that I make her feel comfortable as we talk by avoiding direct questions. After obtaining relevant information that can assist in diagnosis, I would then refer her to recommended treatment (Greenberg, Seltzer & Hong 2001, p. 235).
In recap, it is vital to reiterate that The Black Balloon movie takes the audience through the life of an autistic family member called Charlie and the subsequent difficulties facing members of this family. One of the major themes brought out in the movie is the aspect of sympathy and moral support as depicted through the character of Jackie. Finally, resilience and various coping strategies have also been portrayed as vital elements in the film.
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