Stop the Stigma: Mental Health Depictions in the Movies

scary hand
photo Scary Movie 5 – in theaters next spring! by M Rasoulov from flickrcreativecommons

Fall is my favorite time of year; the leaves begin to fall, the weather gets a little cooler, and the aroma of spiced coffees and teas fills the air. And you can’t forget about all of the scary suspense-filled movies that start to take over your television screen. In light of mental health awareness week, as well as practicing being a more critical consumer of media, I think it’s worth exploring the stigma surrounding mental illness that is often carried out in some of our favorite movies.

Oftentimes in suspense or horror movies the villain is seen as an antagonist, a violent, evil genius with mental illness that is rampant beyond the help of doctors. In contrast, protagonists are seldom portrayed as having some sort of mental illness. A great example of this is demonstrated in the movie American Psycho. The main character, Patrick Bateman, is glamorously portrayed as a wealthy, standoffish killer suspected to have antisocial personality disorder and possibly dissociative identity disorder, while all of the other characters are depicted as “normal” friends and coworkers. This discrepancy between Bateman’s character and the other characters within the movie highlights the “them vs. us” mentality that is often associated with persons with mental illnesses.

In order to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness, education and awareness must be raised. When something is unknown it is easy to be fearful of it and project that fear onto the unknown entity. While movies that depict characters living with mental illness may be entertaining to watch, it is important to understand how this can have unintended effects on those who deal with mental illness on a daily basis.

With this in mind, here some things to keep in mind to reduce stigma:

  • Treat someone as a person, not a label

Treat people as individuals rather than the labels that society places on everyone. Continuing to utilize labels further repeats the cycle of stigma.

  • Use “person first” language

Instead of saying “that bipolar guy in class”, when referring to someone, use wording such as “the guy in class who has bipolar disorder”. People are not their diagnoses. They just happen to have a diagnosis.

  • Avoid using harmful words

Words such as “crazy” and “psycho” are not only hurtful, but also disrespectful.

  • Be sure to check out Stigma Free Carolina for more information about how you can get involved in reducing stigma on campus!

Find more information on how to reduce stigma here:

2 thoughts on “Stop the Stigma: Mental Health Depictions in the Movies

  1. Carter Vail October 10, 2014 / 1:35 pm

    Thank you for being a voice for mental health! People need to be accepted as people and not labeled as their diagnosis. So many people start to believe their mental health diagnosis and forget who they are as people.


  2. lizabethf October 10, 2014 / 1:18 pm

    Well said! Thank you for writing this.


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