When I think about films about mental health I think One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Next, Hannibal and Psycho. Although I’ve read the former, I haven’t seen it, however I have seen and loved the latter two. These are great films, classics and in different ways, they are scary. Scary because of institutionalisation, insanity and confused identities.
I watched these two films before I had a real interest in mental health, before my views had been changed my research and making an effort to find things out myself. I think these films are wonderful, they are some of my favourites, both because of the cinematography and the content, but one thing they’re not is a good portrayal of mental health.
Take Psycho, thief on the run Marion Crane books into a motel run by Norman Bates, a seemingly ‘normal’ man who turns out to be a ‘psycho-killer’ a term which has been popularised by the film industry. Norman Bates appears to have DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) despite often being categorised as a schizophrenic. This, in turn, has caused tremendous stigma around both DID and Schizophrenia and as a result has led to confusion about both disorders amongst the general public.
The film industry is enormous. It has pumped out hundreds of films over the years, and a huge proportion of these have taken on the topic of mental illness showing various degrees of severity. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Still Alice, Misery, Requiem for a Dream, Prozac Nation, Little Miss Sunshine, these are just a handful of films. Some of which (I think) show a great representation of mental health, where others fail. But does it matter?
I think it does. Because film has the power to change our opinions on mental health. For many people it’s the only exposure that people get of mental health so when it looks like a man dressing up as his dead mother or a killer nurse seeking revenge, it’s just so damaging to the public’s view of mental illness. The stereotype is all too common. The idea that people with mental illnesses are violent, need saving or can be ‘fixed.’ When psychosis on the big screen only ever looks like you’re a violent killer, or schizophrenia means that you have multiple personalities, it’s easier to understand where people’s prejudices come from regarding mental health.
Reading this back, I wonder whether I’m getting into social justice warrior territory and wanting something that is meant as entertainment to be an honest and beneficial portrayal of mental health. But the thing is, I don’t think that is unreasonable. The film industry needs to take responsibility for contributing towards mental health stigma for fear of making it even worse than it is.
Do you think it matters if entertainment portrays mental health negatively? Let me know in the comments!