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Mental Illness in Entertainment

How Hollywood Helps to Perpetuate the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

By Melody RauscherPublished 5 years ago 5 min read
Credit to Rhendi Rukmana (@rendisssta) on Unsplash

I want to start off by saying that there will be many spoilers in this story, so be warned.

I have noticed through the years that many movies and TV shows tend to use mental illness as a scare factor. People with mental issues are often portrayed as villains. There are shows where writers may give their main characters mental health issues as a negative plot point. As many people take their social cues from entertainment (even subconsciously), this is a very dangerous habit that needs to be broken.

As a reference, I myself have dealt with various mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, PTSD, mood disorder, and hallucinations are part of my day-to-day life. I am no longer ashamed of my issues, and I am a strong advocate for ending the stigma surrounding mental health. When I was released from the hospital after my second stay, I was told not to tell anybody where I had been "because they wouldn't understand." I decided to ignore that advice and tell people if they asked because I don't care if they don't understand. I'll make them understand.

It's hard to feel like I am accomplishing anything by informing people of the realities of mental illness when I see such horrible stereotypes. It hurts my cause when politicians only want to talk about mental health when a white man goes on a rampage and shoots a ton of people. It creates a stigma that people with mental illnesses are violent and murderous, and that people should be afraid of them. Of us.

Take horror movies as an excellent example of this. I love horror movies. I prefer the paranormal ones. I've watched The Babadook twice, yet it still bugs me. For those who may not have picked up on it, the Babadook represents depression. Once it possesses the mother, she turns violent and kills the dog and threatens to kill her child. This is not how people with depression act. Yes, her actions are a metaphor, but it's not a very good one. People with depression may act out, but most tend to be lethargic and often feel numb. It's not something to be scared of or something to pity them over. Treat people with depression as you would someone with a broken leg. It's treatable and needs to be treated with kindness and understanding.

Another example is Split. Great movie, horrible stereotypes. In fact, there are quite a few horror movies where people with Dissociative Identity Disorder are psycho killers. In reality, most are good people who work hard and are just like neurotypical people, just with a small difference. There's no reason to fear them. Really.

Bates Motel is absolutely creepy. It's based off a horror movie called Psycho, which is honestly a horrible name for a horror movie. Psycho? Really? Any more slurs for mentally ill people you want to throw out there?

Anyway, Norman has hallucinations and blackouts. Yes, he's a violent killer, but it's not the hallucinations and blackouts that make him violent. The reality of hallucinations, or psychotic symptoms as they are known clinically, is that they aren't harmful. In fact, most people who deal with hallucinations aren't told to hurt people or themselves, they just hear and see things. Sometimes they can be frightening visions, but often they are at worst a nuisance. Blackouts also aren't something to be afraid of, unless of course, you are the one blacking out. They don't often cause people to perform violent acts, they are just lost time to people who have them.

American Horror Story's latest season is an absolute horror to people with phobias. Sarah Paulson portrays a woman who has an irrational fear of clowns. Now, being afraid of clowns is not exactly irrational due to the uncanny valley concept, but let's just roll with this one for now. She is portrayed as unstable and irrational, and many people were poking fun at the character when the trailer was released. This isn't right. Phobias are nothing to laugh about and it's hurtful to people who have them.

Pretty Little Liars is another offender. With two main characters who end up in a sanitarium during the show's run, it definitely does the neuroatypical population a disservice. Both of these characters are villains in the show at some point, with one being the main villain for many seasons and the other becoming her helper during her stay in the hospital. The big reveal of a main villain in the show tells us her story of how she's transgender and was locked in a mental institution for several years. This not only portrays transgender people in a negative light, but it also insinuates that being trans means you have a mental illness.

Hollywood needs to stop. I hate turning on the TV or going to the theaters to find out that another show or movie has come out with a mentally ill person as the villain. I don't want to feel like a social pariah for being open about my struggles. Roughly 20% percent of US teenagers have a mental disorder to the point that they seek treatment. That's 8,346,247 teenagers. 18.2% of adults in the US have mental disorders, or 42.5 million adults. WE are stigmatizing this population, and it's not right. If we treat mental illness as something to be feared and to be ashamed of, people won't seek treatment. People will continue to die without ever seeking help, and it's wrong. We as a society need to educate ourselves about mental illness and start treating everybody as people.

pop culture

About the Creator

Melody Rauscher

Avid Netflix watcher who knows their TV shows and books. Non-binary trans.

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