The wonders of tv – brain injury myths

brain injury myths tv

The way you look at the world is, in a large part, influenced by what you read and see. Which isn’t a problem as long as it’s in accordance with reality. But what if you start to think or believe things which aren’t true. I think that by mentioning ‘fake news’, we all see the possible pitfalls.

I’ve noticed that I’ve had preconceptions or prejudices due to coverage or tv shows, that in hindsight turned out to be completely false. Apparently men in suits in England don’t all wear a derby hat and walk with a walking cane in the streets. Which was a real disappointment for my younger self during my first trip to London as a child. 🙂

Regrettably, I also discovered that I had some misconceptions about the consequences of brain injury.

The 10% myth

For a short while, I believed the myth that we only use 10% of our brain. That, if we were able to unlock the rest, we would become really smart and capable of doing many more things. I liked that idea! In a moment of optimism I could already envision it. My injury would ‘active’ another part of my brain, as a sort of blessing in disguise. Enabling me to do something new.

This idea though, is a persistent myth. Scientists and medical professionals have debunked this myth multiple times. Nevertheless this idea is still used in movies or shows (looking at you Limitless).

Stories in the news

My belief that this myth could be true, got reinforced with the stories about people who woke up after an accident, stroke or coma and suddenly could speak in another language. Or who suddenly had an extraordinary talent for music, art or maths.

This one I liked as well. To be able to speak another language without having to study for it or to be able to compose beautiful music. I envisioned a whole new career, were I would travel the world as a professional translator or successful artist. It probably won’t come as a surprise that this also didn’t turned out to be the case.

Which makes sense when you think about it. The stories that you hear in the news are often about the deviations of the norm. The exceptions. Ordinary people who suddenly become extraordinary through trauma. Clearly that makes a story. The simple fact that every year 2,5 million Americans get a traumatic brain injury of which 375.000 will face long-term problem, apparently isn’t news. (For Great Britain the numbers are 340.000 people with an acquired brain injury and  500.000 who are living with long term disabilities.)

Though I hope that we, as a society, will never experience these numbers as being normal.

Movie & tv

Other than the news, we also have the world of movie and tv. These also have contributed to my misconceptions. As you assume that there is some truth in these stories. Well, there are also some glaring misconceptions that appear to be really persistent. Two of those frustrate me the most.

The first is the myth that repeated head trauma (getting hit) or getting knocked out is no problem whatsoever. Sure the moment itself is unpleasant, but in the next scene you see the character running around, like nothing has happened. Which of course completely ignores the reality. I now no longer watch fight scenes, as I’ll just get increasingly irritated and talk out loud (read: call out) to my tv that they are wrong. Which apparently can really annoy the other people in the room. 😉

Another misconception is the portrayal of amnesia. Apparently film makers love using amnesia as a plot device. They have two ways of depicting amnesia, either the character has lost all their memories up to a certain point (The Vow, 50 First Dates), or they’ve forgotten who they are (Bourn Identity, Samantha Who). It might be fun to watch, but again isn’t realistic. It simply isn’t how our brain work.

Missed opportunity

I also never see a character having a bad day. A day where they are forced to stay indoors, because they don’t have any energy left. A day where they have trouble forming coherent sentences, walk into things and are emotional. This, in my view, is a missed opportunity. I believe that if you can recognize yourself in a character, the good and especially the bad bits, you feel less alone. Less wrong. Also it would really help with raising awareness over what a brain injury is (and isn’t).

On the bright side, there are some great documentaries and movies that have come out in recent years, which do provide a (more) realistic view. They also have raised awareness on the causes and consequences of brain injury. Movies like ‘The Crash Reel’ and ‘Concussion’ and documentaries like ‘Louis Theroux: A Different Brain’.

Which gives hope! There is still a long way to go, but hopefully we are on the right track now.

Which tv or movie myth annoys you? Have you seen another movie or show that portrays brain injury more realistic?



One Reply to “The wonders of tv – brain injury myths”

  1. When they call it a “head injury”. Yes it is accurate but it is omitting a key detailed namely the “brain” part of the injury. I would like to a sitcom revolving around TBI because I lived it hahaha.

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