In this project, I looked at the way mental illness is depicted in film and the impact of such depictions on viewers’ attitudes, beliefs, knowledge, and their own mental health. I was interested in the portrayal of inner thoughts and turmoil, external behaviors, interpersonal relationships, pursuit of treatment and methods used, and recovery. Additionally, I examined research on how these depictions influence the field of mental health treatment, and how film can be implemented in therapeutic interventions. I found that depictions of mental illness are abundant in both children and adult films, and that such depictions are vastly negative. Many characters with mental illness are portrayed as violent, referred to with disparaging terms, or shown in a comical context that trivializes the illness. These negative portrayals have a significant impact on harmful stereotypes and negative attitudes held by the public which further isolate individuals with mental illness and may contribute to lack of treatment seeking behavior or unrealistic expectations for treatment. However, some positive depictions exist which have the potential of educating the public and being implicated into clinical practice. Overall, filmmakers need to work to make depictions of mental illness that are both entertaining and accurate, and mental health professionals need to be aware of the potential harm of media portrayals of mental illness so they can help patients overcome these stereotypes.
I decided to dive deeper into the topics of depression, suicide, and eating disorders. Focusing on films about these topics, I watched several movies and reflected on my impressions. I also related the depictions to my own experience. Inspired by the films I watched, I expanded my research on these three illnesses. I researched the suicide contagion effect and how it differs between nonfictional and fictional media content. I surveyed abundant academic literature, as well as, popular sources discussing suicide contagion, and crafted a summary of this content. Additionally, to gain insight on how movies might influence the attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge of adolescents, I surveyed high school students after they watched the movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story. For eating disorders, I looked at how depictions have changed over the past few decades, why it is difficult to portray eating disorders in film, and where filmmakers should go from here. Articles examining such were mainly popular sources reviewing films and debating the positives and negatives of their depictions. There is a lack of scholarly research on eating disorders in film. Lastly, I added to the debate surrounding Netflix’s To the Bone.