Improvements in Hollywood’s depictions of mental illness
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10-05-15 Category: Anxiety, Mental Health, Mental Illness


Filmmakers are taking more measures to ensure that accuracy and empathy are applied to on-screen portrayals of mental illness than in past decades. For instance, 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook” was lauded for providing an accurate depiction of bipolar disorder, while 2013’s “Blue Jasmine” gave an honest and raw portrayal of a woman struggling with a personality disorder and seemingly on the verge of a mental breakdown. Though Hollywood has a history of perpetuating stereotypes surrounding the mentally ill, these new films and their critical praise indicate the tide is shifting toward more accurate storytelling in the context of mental health.

Filmmaker Woody Allen has used mental health as an underlying theme for many of his films throughout the past few decades, rarely falling into related stereotypes. One of the leads of his Academy-Award winning 1977 film, “Annie Hall,” discloses having seen a therapist for the past 15 years. The character, played by Allen, jokes he is going to try it for just one more year. As Elie Cheniaux and J. Landeira-Fernandez explain in their 2013 article entitled “Understanding mental disorders through Woody Allen’s films,” Allen “has undergone psychoanalytic treatment for 36 years. Many characters in his films, especially those played by him, undergo some form of psychotherapy and show some characteristics of mental disorders.” The aforementioned “Blue Jasmine,” written and directed by Allen, delves deep into the world of mental illness and how it affects interpersonal relationships.

Past horror films, such as 1980’s “The Shining,” have demonized individuals struggling with mental health issues by depicting them as erratic, violent and often homicidal. Dr. Danny Wedding, co-author of “Movies and Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathology,” explains that the misconception that those with mental health issues are violent instills fear into the public and prevents many people from getting the care they need. In reality, Dr. Wedding notes, people with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of violence than commit offenses. Even depictions of mental health professionals perpetuate negative views of the mental health community, an extreme example of which is Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the cannibalistic psychiatrist in 1991’s “The Silence of the Lambs.”

Another common misconception depicted in films is the need for past trauma to trigger a mental health issue. There are many causes of mental illness, though most characters in films are able to trace the root of their mental health problems to one traumatic incident that changed everything. Similarly, Dr. Wedding notes that there is a theme in many films that “…love will conquer mental illness,” which is false and minimizes the severity of mental health disorders. Despite common stereotypes and misconceptions, he feels hopeful that “…there are many major films that do a surprisingly good job, and it’s becoming increasingly common for directors and producers to hire psychologists and psychiatrists as consultants.”

Films are increasingly depicting mental health issues, which can reduce the related stigma and indirectly encourage people to seek help. If you or a loved one is struggling with these issues, Sovereign Health Group is here to provide evidence-based treatment modalities for individuals with mental health disorders, substance abuse issues and dual diagnosis. Call (866) 819-0427 to speak with a professional today.

Written by Courtney Howard, Sovereign Health Group writer

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