Essay: Mental illness in Film

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  • Mental illness in Film
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Lit review 3,500

Mental illness in Film

1.1 The effects of mental illness portrayals in film

Fictional portrayals of mental illness are both frequent and potent. Since the 1920s, whether directly or indirectly, mental illness has made its way into the plots, subplots, and characters of films. (Livingston 2004: ) The film industry has a long history of depicting mental illness in a distorted, judgmental, and in many cases destructive way. (Gabbard et al 1999: ) Psychiatric disabilities are portrayed more often than any other disability category in Hollywood. Popular films portraying characters with mental illness frequently portray the symptoms inaccurately, this distortion of images is seen to be especially problematic (Bryd et al 1985: 47)

Hyler explains how to some it might be appealing to discard the depictions of mentally ill people as simply risk-free Hollywood distortions. (Hyler 2003: 33) However, seeing as the film is such a powerful medium, inaccurate depictions of mental illness has added to the stigma of an already misunderstood disease. (Kondo 2008: 250) Many theorists believe that films can be especially important in influencing the public’s perception of mental illness because many people are relatively uninformed about the problems of mental disorders, and the media tend to be especially effective in shaping opinion in those situations in which strong opinions are held. (Wedding et al 1999: 2)

Key theorist Wahl explores what information about mental illness a person may base their judgments on and where their ideas and impressions have come from. He argues that the public’s knowledge of mental illness does not come from mental health professionals, rather from the sources we are exposed to on a daily basis – namely, the mass media. (Wahl 1995: 3) Kimmerle and Cress agree that people will obtain not only specific attitudes but also basic knowledge about mental disorders from mass media. (Kimmerle et al 2013: 933) It can be argued that the effect of this can be detrimental as research shows that people who gather most of their information about mental disorders from the media are likely to be less tolerant toward persons with mental illness than participants with direct experience with mentally ill people. (Granello et al 1999:) Theorist Kondo supports this belief, acknowledging that the risk is greater than some may think, as for those who have not experienced mental illness in real life, cinema may be the only source of exposure. (Kondo 2008: 250)

When looking at how negative films in part count for the continuing stigma around mental illness, it can be recognised that stigma is one of the reasons that so few people with mental illness problems actually receive help. (Wedding et al 1999: 2) It can be argued that the mentally ill are so intensely stigmatized that the individuals affected are neglected and belittled possibly resulting in the avoidance of treatment. When specifically looking at patients, research suggests that the consequences of negative media images for people who suffer from a mental illness prove to be damaging to their self-esteem, help-seeking behaviours, medication adherence and general recovery. (Stuart 2006: 2) This is supported by Pirkis research on how negative on-screen portrayals have a cumulative effect on both the public’s perception of people with mental illness and on the likelihood of people with mental illness seeking appropriate help. (Pirkis 2006: 523)

Media representations are often criticized for their unrealistic portrayal of psychiatric disorders, the negative stereotypical images they provide, and the myths they perpetuate about mental illness. (Livingston 2004: 124) Livingstone’s research concludes that popular films not only reflect cultural beliefs about mental illness but also affect them. When looking at Hollywood specifically, the negative stereotypes of patients with mental illness have a long history. Inaccurate portrayals have an important and underestimated negative effect on the perception of people with mental disorders-by the public, legislators, families and patients themselves. (Hyler 2003: 33) Kimmerle and Cress suggest that viewers form their attitudes and beliefs on the basis of what they see on television. Due to the fact that mental disorders are predominantly portrayed in the media incorrectly and in a stigmatizing fashion. They argue that this could mean that viewers tend to develop negative attitudes toward mental disorders and mentally ill people. (Kimmerle et al 2013: 933) Seeing as the portrayals of an individual with mental illness in the media are extensively negative, Chmielewski believes that people who acquire most of their information from mass media are understandably more likely to have less tolerant attitudes toward individuals with mental illness. (Chmielewski 2013: 5)

There is a debate over whether the negative portrayals of characters with mental illness in the media have a quantity dependent effect on viewers, meaning the more negative portrayals they view, the more negatively they view mental illness. Or whether the most important factor in internalizing stereotypes relies upon the viewer’s perception of reality. (Chmielewski 2013: 5) Hanley (….) explores the impact that mental illness based portrayals have on audiences. Her results showed that the greater knowledge respondents had about mental illness, the less likely they were to agree with statements that were related to stereotypes about mental illness and contrariwise. Yet, there was no significant relationship between the number of films seen depicting mental illness and knowledge of mental illness which could imply respondents perhaps being able to signify the differences between what was exaggerated in a fictionalized sense and reality features of mental illness.

Theorists Minnebo and Van Acker found that people who had the ability to clearly distinguish between fiction and reality had more positive feelings toward persons with mental disorders. (Minnebo et al 2004:) However, Gabbard argues that media images work on us unconsciously throughout our lives, regardless of whether we consciously reject the film stereotypes that we often see. (Gabbard 2001: 368) Hyler agrees that “media images insidiously work their way into the collective unconscious of society and influence the way we all regard the world around us.” (Hyler 2003: 33) This can be supported by Anderson’s research, which concludes that it is not a case of audiences not being able to differentiate between fiction and reality, rather it is that both are used together in juxtaposition to interpret and understand the message about mental illness. (Anderson, 2003: 303) One could conclude from these researchers that the negatives images audiences are often subjected to willingly or not could have a pessimistic underlying effect on how we perceive mental illness.

1.2 What types of mental illness sells?

It can be noted through history that after one slasher film, depicting themes of murder and assault proved profitable and popular, it led to further similar films. Packer believes that Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) possibly began this trend, with an entire genre emerging after the release. (Packer 2017: Xii) Theorist Greenberg also highlights how Psycho’s financial and artistic success spurred the escalation of violence throughout cinema. (Greenberg 1993: 149) It is also apparent that the depiction of mental illness in films commonly appear in two popular genres, being horror and suspense thriller. (Wedding et al 1999: 5) From this research, it’s clear that filmmakers saw a gap in the market for mentally ill characters to perpetuate the popular themes of murder and violence through mentally ill serial killers.

Over 30 years ago, Hyler acknowledged the rise in commercial films depicting mental illness, declaring that if the number of films was any indication, Hollywood certainly was fascinated by all things psychiatric. (Hyler 1988: 195) Key theorist Greenberg is a qualified psychiatrist who has consulted on films in Hollywood. Therefore, he offers a really valuable perspective when reviewing mental illness in film. His work explores why cinema has favoured some mental illness disorders, whilst others are often neglected. He notes that filmmakers have always been especially attracted to disorders that they believe to possess distinctive melodramatic symptoms and behaviour. (Greenberg 2013: 4)

Filmmakers realise that more extreme disorders offer a more entertaining narrative which consequently leads to bigger box office revenues. (Greenberg 2013: 5) Hollywood directors and scriptwriters have long intuitively recognized this and capitalized on it. (Butler 2004: 63) Theorist Beachum agrees that Hollywood has been naturally drawn to psychiatry for its cinematic utility as a plot mechanism. (Beachum 2010: 15) She too notes that filmmakers often rely on interesting characters and unique stories to entertain an audience. Explaining that they do this through the inclusion of strange or extraordinary characters or behaviours that will attract interest and build the plot of the film. (Beachum 2010: 16) This research suggests that more severe disorders are exceedingly desirable in the eyes of the filmmakers as they offer the potential for more extreme storylines and narratives.

In the past, antisocial personality disorder was the most popular and dominant disorder, particularly in mainstream films and arguably this still remains today. These films often feature sociopathic characters who are serial killers, inducing mayhem and committing murders. Greenberg believes that the success of these types of movies has resulted in them becoming an industry favourite. (Greenberg 2013: 10) Packer’s research justifies Greenberg’s beliefs. She explains how rarer dramatic precedents seem to merit more attention in TV and film in comparison to more common examples. Highlighting how this is also very apparent in medical illness also, “can you imagine a medical show filled with repeated ear inspections, sore throat swabs and temperature-taking, rather than rare leukaemia’s that require bone marrow transplants from reluctant, missing even imprisoned relatives…” this is because the audience finds dramatic examples more interesting. (Packer 2017: xv) DeMare also supports this claim, adding that shock value in the portrayal of mental illnesses is irresistible to filmmakers when over dramatizing disorders. (DeMare 2016: 1)

Some disorders that are less addressed in the industry seem to be major depressive disorder and Alzheimer’s disease. (Greenberg 2013: 13) Although depression is a much more common mental illness, in Hollywood we tend not to see many movies about depression as a stand-alone condition and on the occasions that we do, it often results in suicide. Packer believes this is due to depressive states not providing enough drama for an interesting movie. A depression sufferer typically sleeps more, moves little, talks less and hardly socializes. Seeing as cinema largely depends upon visuals and dialogue, the more dramatic illnesses are deemed more interesting. (Packer 2017: xi) Greenberg believes that Hollywood’s exclusion of common illnesses is due to the mistaken assumption that audiences would be turned off by such depictions because of the uncomfortable realness that resonates with some people. (Greenberg 2013: 13) This idea can be linked to Hanley’s view that filmmakers aim to depict a reality that many audiences and viewers may not live. (Hanley 2015: 33) Therefore the realism of the more common disorders is less interesting and entertaining for audiences. It is clear from this research that shocking and dramatic portrayals are utilized a lot more than standardized as it offers an intense storyline that audiences will find entertaining.

Past research demonstrates that the film industry mimics popular trends. For example, Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) box office success spiralled many more look-alike movies about ‘natural evil’. (Packer 2017: xiii) Due to this pattern, Greenberg predicts that screenwriters will create more films featuring bipolar characters because the fundamental dramatic significance of those effective swings has now been acknowledged in Hollywood. He claims that the success of the movie Silver Linings Playbook will be sure to generate duplicates. (Greenberg 2013: 27) Seeing as this literature was written in 2013, this offers a great opportunity to compare his predictions to the present.

When it comes to understanding why audiences appreciate the theme of mental illness, Packer talks about the concept of schadenfreude, which refers to the enjoyment experienced when learning of someone else’s failures or misfortunes. This enjoyment is not malicious, rather the sense of relief of seeing someone besides themselves struggling. (Packer 2017: xii) Another opinion for explaining audience’s appreciation could be applied to Vaage’s antihero in American television theory. This research suggests that what makes audiences engage with morally bad main characters is the audience’s demand for that extra psychological knowledge as to why they are acting in this way. (Vaage 2016: 12) To me, this suggests that filmmakers may believe that a character’s mental illness provides a motive and intention for these kinds of violent acts, which may be attractive to audiences as it provides reasoning behind the actions.

Mentally Ill Characters

2.1 Trends and patterns

It is argued amongst many critics that mentally ill characters are highly stereotyped in film. These characters are often given illegitimate diagnoses, heavily embellished by stereotypes of madness, criminality and gender roles (Packer 2017: 6) These images are manipulated to perpetuate stereotypes about mental illness, showing how stereotypes are related to stigma and discrimination against minority groups. (Livingston 2004: 119) There are certain words with negative connotations used to describe one suffering from mental illness. Theorist Livingston notes the common use of ‘crazy, insane, nuts, sociopath, maniac and lunatic’ as film vocabulary to describe a person with mental illness has a stigmatizing effect. (Livingston 2004: 123) Regardless of whether a films venture is to show a dangerous violent character or one who is carefree and happy, Sieff expresses how typical media portrayals use restricted definitions of mental illnesses, despite the much broader definitions of contemporary psychiatry, demonstrated in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorder. (Sieff, 2003: 262)

The message that mental illness causes violence has been consistent since the early days of television. (Nunnally 1957: ) Victims are often portrayed as aggressive, dangerous and unpredictable. (Wedding et al 1999: 2) Diefenbach and West’s research found that mentally ill characters on television were nearly 10 times more likely to be portrayed as brutal criminals than characters without mental disorders. (Diefenbach and West 2007: ) Analyzing roles on prime time television in the USA between 1969 and 1985, Signorielli (1986) found that 72% of characters with mental illness were depicted as violent, compared to 42% of normal characters. Characters with mental illness were also more likely to be depicted as victims of violence, unsuccessful and frequently without a defined profession or identity beyond their illnesses when compared to ‘normal’ characters. Characters with mental illnesses failed at their jobs about half of the time compared to 15% of normal characters. (Signorielli cited in Sieff, 2003: )

Another common theme is romance. Mersin believes that psychopathy is romanticized in Hollywood cinema for high-entertainment value. (Merskins 2012: 44) Kondo also highlights the tendency for mental illness to be romanticized in order to create a more attractive over a factual story. She declares that “love does not solve mental illness” yet in films, it is portrayed to be a healing quality. Linking romance to mental illness, while preferable to the great misconception linking to violence, it is still showing an incorrect pretence. (Kondo 2008: 252) Beachum’s research supports this claim as her research alludes to how some audiences really do internalize the “love is all you need” message. (Beachum 2010: 26) Owen also agrees that while a special empathetic understanding may help in symptom management, the notion of cure through a loving relationship is a myth. (Owen 2007: 60) In addition to this, the simplicity “just have some fun” as a method of recovery which is heavily featured in films, again is not a realistic method of treatment. These images are frustrating for suffers to see as it takes a lot of therapy and medication to make any positive changes to mental illness. (Kondo 2008: 252)

Another highly stereotyped attribute of a mentally ill character deems them as childlike, irresponsible, incompetent and unpredictable. Sometimes they are portrayed with unkempt clothing and wild hair, cannot be taken seriously. (Wahl 1997: 2) Mentally ill characters sometimes embody physical appearances that often serve as visible cues to their mental state. This can include features such as dishevelled hair, rotten teeth, and dirty faces or clothes. (Pirkis et al 2006: ) Johnson explores a reoccurring theme in mental illness representation, being how often mental illness is reduced to a character flaw which the person suffering must overcome. He suggests how an “outcast” can become a “hero” once overcoming their deficiency. (Johnson 2012: 22)

Theorist Rubin discusses how a range of disorders portrayed in the mass media intensifies cultural stereotypes. Frequently mentally challenged characters are utilised as a source of comic relief or a story point, rarely allowing the characters to be lifelike or show human resemblance. (Rubin 2012: 11) Bryne agrees, expressing that filmmakers seem unable to understand characters with mental illness, arguing that comedy is often based on that lack of understanding. (Byrne 2009: 4) However, Wedding and Boyd believe that the reason for some films portraying psychological aberrations with quirky humour is to defuse the sense of anxiety that is produced by the lead characters’ behaviours. (Wedding et al 1999: 6) Again, although humour may be more favoured in comparison to portrayals of violence, humorous depictions also have the power to contribute to a lack of understanding and sensitivity about mental illness, further disparaging the severity of mental disorders. (Wahl 1997: 24) This research clearly shows that common trends and patterns surrounding mentally ill characters can be detrimental to reals suffers lives, as well as their recovery as they are perpetrating deceptive myths.

2.2 Stereotype categories

Hyler is a key theorist when looking at the stigmatization of mentally ill characters. He reviews the commonly found stereotypes perceived in film and television and uses examples of several films that propagate these ideas. The five categories that he outlines are ‘homicidal maniac’, ‘narcissistic parasite’, ‘female patient as seductress’, ‘rebellious free spirit’, and ‘specially gifted.’ (Hyler 2003: 33) Psychiatric theorist Byrne understands that films need drama and conflict to keep audiences engaged, which consequently is likely to result in the behaviours of people with mental health problems to be extreme. He outlines what he believes to be the four stereotypes of people with mental health problems in mainstream cinema. He categorizes these as ‘comedy’, ‘faking and indulgent’, ‘pity’ and ‘violence’ and also uses many films as evidence of his findings. (Byrne 2009: 2) This idea of being able to categories all mentally ill characters into one of these stereotypes may be outdated, seeing as a lot of developments have been made regarding mentally ill characters in film since 2003. However, Hyler’s work, in particular, is very interesting and worthy of exploring as it is very apparent in many films and has been touched on by many different theorists.

The concept of linking mental illness with homicidal behaviour is a disturbing myth which is very apparent in horror films (Hyler et al 1991: 1044) A homicidal maniac is described as someone mentally unstable who kills people. Hyler discusses how the homicidal maniac is one of the longest-running stereotypes of those with mental disorders, dating back to early one-reel films. The 1909 silent short drama film by D. W. Griffith introduced the stereotype of the ‘deranged’ mental patient who is dangerous and violent, requiring imprisonment as to not cause society trouble. (Hyler 2003: 33) Theorist Kondo personally suffers from schizophrenia and shares her own first-hand experience of how painful the inaccuracies are to watch, causing her both anger and sadness. She shares that she often wonders if when people hear about her illness, that they would assume she is violent, or a ‘sociopath’ or ‘homicidal maniac’ due to the stereotypes depicted in film. To her, this feeling makes the possibility of being vocal about her diagnosis unachievable as she finds it hard to trust their understanding. (Kondo 2008: 250) This personal experience is valuable as I am sure that she isn’t the only person who has been affected negatively by this inaccurate stereotype and is able to give a voice to many who can’t represent themselves in this way.

Hyler’s idea of the narcissistic parasite shows the mental patients as self-centred attention seekers involved in a narcissistic relationship with their therapist. The example of 1986 comedy Down and Out in Beverly Hills, shows a psychoanalyst named Dr Von Zimmer, who treats neurotic canines. While this stereotype isn’t as blatantly harmful as the homicidal maniac, it does assist in stigmatizing genuine patients by mocking them and belittling their troubles. The stigma does make it improbable that patients will expose their positive experiences with psychiatric treatment to others. (Hyler 2003: 33) Sieff’s research supports this, with her findings that comedies depicting mentally ill patients, define characters with mental illnesses through amusing and peculiar modes of behaviour such as nervousness, an ill-tempered effect or total obsession with minute detail. Their symptoms generate humorous, depreciating situations which again is demeaning their distresses. (Sieff, 2003: 261)

Another stereotype outlined by Hyler is the ‘rebellious free spirit’. There are many depictions with many characters being seen to alienate themselves and cause distress to other characters by instructing them to meet demands. Hyler believes the protagonist are sometimes portrayed as “egocentric, rude, obnoxious and destructive.” (Hyler 2003: 33) Beachum supports this, stating that this stereotype implies that mentally ill people cannot be are unreliable and unlikeable. (Beachum 2010: 20) This research allows me to begin to think about the effects this could cause. I feel that the undependable aspect could have a possibly damaging impact on a mentally ill person’s employability, contributing to the stigma around mental illness in the workplace.

Next, the female patient as a seductress shows the stereotype of the female patient as a woman with an uncontrollable or excessive sexual desire for their therapist. This appears in many films from the 1990s. One example being in Girl Interrupted (1999) main character Lisa casually mentions that she has had sex with several of her previous therapists. This negatively impacts the stereotype of the male therapist, using their position of power for their own gratitude and pleasures. This may also have a damaging impact on real female patient’s willingness to seek help from a psychiatrist, possibly resulting in postponing or deciding against the service. (Hyler 2003: 33) Many noir films position female protagonists as deviants, characterized by sexual expressiveness. The femme fatale, whose uncontrolled sexuality is characterized not only as a mental break but also as a threat to society. (Packer 2017: 7) Theorist Kondo expands on this belief, exploring how in many films the relationship between the patient and psychiatrist becomes distorted. Some films show the psychiatrist having evil intentions and others suggest a love connection between the two to be therapeutic. (Kondo 2008: 251) This literature likewise links to the idea of love being romanticized on a more sexual level.

The final category outlined by Hyler is ‘the specially gifted’. This shows a person with an identifiable mental illness possessing special powers that are either connected to the disorder or assist to compensate for the mental illness. Although some researchers have found that with some disorders, (e.g. schizophrenia) patients possess a gene that optimizes their mental capabilities however most don’t acquire the discipline or focus in order to completely implement these gifted qualities. (Meyer et al 2007: para. 3). The idea that their special power is related to their illness implies that the treatment of the disorder may destroy the gift that assists it. Hyler explains the repercussions of this, as many patients who might identify with such characters, may be alluded to believe that it’s in their best intentions to terminate their medication and preceding treatment for their mental disorders, as it would result in their ‘gift’ diminishing. (Hyler 2003: 33) This offers another possible destructive repercussion on recovery for the mentally ill. It is clear that from this literature that many character stereotypes are constructed for purposes of entertainment. It is also very apparent of how unrealistic many of these stereotypes are and how they can have a detrimental effect on the stigma surrounding mental illness and the daily lives of suffers.

The Film Industry

3.1 Film awards, critics and online reviews

Bryne believes that mental illness is used as ‘bait’ for film awards. When exploring this, he found that 10% of the 317 Academy Awards between 1929 and 2009 were awarded to films either depicting a character with a mental disorder or to films that had mental illness as a topic. (Byrne 2010; quoted in Hanley 2015: 1) Hanley also highlights that during the 2015 Academy Awards, of the eight films nominated for Best Picture, five depicted a character showing symptoms of a mental disorder. As well as this, of the ten actors nominated for Best Actor and Best Actress, eight actors played a character with a mental disorder. (Hanley 2015: 33) The industry has developed filmmaking techniques that mimic the perceptual process to draw emotional responses from audiences. (Beachum 2010: 20) Past literature also notes that these types of films have the power to present wrenching emotional struggles (Fleming et al: 185) Hanley believes that the characters raw and emotional struggles and storylines offer an opportunity for deep and credited performances from actors. (Hanley 2015: 33) This clearly shows a motive for many inclusions of mental illness in film, being that they offer an opportunity for success at film awards which subsequently may increase film exposure and popularity.

In today’s society, mental health is becoming a huge talking point, more people are able to voice their opinions on online platforms using social media. The rise of online databases such as Rotten Tomatoes and IDBM could directly impact the filmmaker’s decisions as they may possibly want to avoid offending people due to the risk of negative reviews. Websites such as Amazon, IMDB, and Rotten Tomatoes rely on people’s opinions and reviews. Movie reviews are an idyllic source to explore sentiment classification. People who review films in many cases have strong feelings about the movies, and usually, provide a numerical rating along with the review. (Liang, 2006: 1) In today’s society, text classification plays an integral part and is a good indicator to the general public as to whether a film is worth the watch, therefore can be crucial for the success of a movie.

3.2 Are attitudes changing?

The film has become such an integral part of our culture that it seems to be the mirror in which we see ourselves reflected in every day. (Wedding et al 1999: 1) Beachum believes the mental health sector has a responsibility to seek out collaboration with filmmakers to encourage positive portrayals whilst also speaking out and commenting on inaccurate ones. (Beachum 2010: 29) Theorist Pirkis agrees, concluding that there is a need for the mental health sector and the film and television industries to collaborate to counter negative portrayals of mental illness and to explore the potential for positive portrayals to educate and inform, as well as to entertain. (Pirkis 2006: 539) Beachum explains how for this type of collaboration to be productive, mental health professionals must be meticulous of the filmmakers’ objectives and processes instead of aiming to enforce their own. She highlights how this process would allow psychotherapist to provide their support and expertise, possibly operating as consultants to direct films towards more accurate representations. (Beachum 2010: 29) Seeing as film has already demonstrated how powerful it can be for influencing public opinions, this partnership could possibly allow more emotionally-charged, positive portrayals in the future which would help to disregard the stigma surrounding mental health.

In contrast, theorist Bryne declares that the job of the director is to create an entertaining film that will generate revenue for producers and investors, meaning that it’s not necessarily their job to educate the public. (Bryne 2009: ) Theorist Packer believes that the utilisation of mental illness as a theme was not to intentionally to warp the public’s perception, rather than for box office success for similar films. (Packer 2017: xiii) Beachum points out that it’s doubtful that Hollywood and the movie industry will stop using negative character stereotypes for reasons of accuracy. She agrees that the principal motive of the industry is to deliver entertaining movies that will attract audiences and be successful at the box-office, not to amend society’s perceptions. (Beachum 2010: 29) Her research highlights how It is very common for all films to exemplify stories with ‘identifiable heroes, familiar themes, predictable patterns, and satisfying endings’ and it seems the same rules seem to apply for on-screen psychiatry, with the narratives tending to fit this mould regardless of inaccuracy. (Beachum 2010: 25) Greenberg supports that a disorders clinical accuracy will usually come second to the industries idea of potential profit. (Greenberg 2013: 5) This research clearly eludes to the fact that entertainment and potential profit success is what the industries priorities when it comes to depicting mental illness in film.

It can be argued that mental health advocates blame the media for promoting stigma and discrimination toward people with a mental illness. However, the media may also be an important ally in challenging public prejudices, initiating a public debate, and projecting positive, human interest stories about people who live with mental illness. (Stuart 2006: 2) Since the 20th century, more counsellors have encouraged politicians and well-respected celebrities to speak out publically on mental health issues. Well, known people should be encouraged to talk about their own mental illnesses, their experiences and their successful treatments, as it will inspire suffers to seek the help and medical attention that they need. (Brown et al 2002: 81)

Greenberg notes that in today’s age, it seems that more common disorders are hitting the big screen, with bipolar disorder depictions becoming fashionable and prevalent amongst the film industry. Greenberg highlights that one reason for this change is down to celebrities speaking out about their bipolarity. Bipolarity is increasingly emerging through Hollywood on popular mediums like TMZ and reality TV shows. (Greenberg 2013: 23) When exploring if celebrities speaking out about mental illness is helping to end the stigma, Dr Harris Stratyner, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry states “I think it’s unbelievably empowering,” he continues to say “when it comes to things like psychiatric illness and substance abuse, there’s a stigma that’s attached…when a celebrity who is respected comes out and reveals it, it’s very empowering—particularly to young men and women—but to people of all ages.” (E-news, online) I agree as this will allow mentally ill people to identify and relate to celebrities, making them feel more human and inspiring them to seek recovery.

In recent years, mental health has become a more talked about subject and it seems that filmmakers are increasingly aware and conscious of this. However, Byrne believes that mental health stereotypes have not changed over a century of cinema. Revealing that if anything, the comedy is crueller, and the deranged psycho killer even more demonic than earlier prototypes. (Byrne 2009: 4) In contrast, many theorists disagree and believe that the stereotypes are improving. Kondo agrees that overall the film industry has done a great disservice to people’s understanding of mental illness, yet believes that recently we are seeing more accurate and sympathetic portrayals. She underlines how It seems that the trends seem to be moving in a positive direction, away from serial killers and towards sympathetic real people. Her hopes are that those suffering from mental illness feel well represented in future films possibly allowing identification with characters who portray their real-life struggles on screen. (Kondo 2008: 252) Many theorists believe that movie representations “may come to seem less threatening and more revealing, shedding light on real professional motivations—the noble, the ignoble, and everything in between” (Young et al 2008: 96).

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