High school students (grades 9-12) watched the movie It’s Kind of a Funny Story in health class and were asked to answer three homework questions. The format was open response.

  1. In class we watched It’s Kind of a Funny Story. What are your thoughts about how mental illness what depicted? What do you think was done well? What do you thin could have been done better?
  2. Did you learn anything from It’s Kind of a Funny Story? What was your attitude towards mental illness before watching the movie? Has your attitude changed after watching the movie?
  3. Overall, how much do you think what is show in movies about mental illness impacts people’s attitudes, beliefs, and knowledge regarding mental illness?

Homework from 51 students was anonymously collected and trends among answers were reviewed. Table one shows students’ responses to what was done well in the movie. Table two shows students’ responses to what was not done well. Table three shows answers to question two, and table four shows answers to question three. Some students gave multiple responses to each question so the total number of students is greater than 51 for each table except table 2. Table 2 has less than 51 students because not all students gave a response to the question of what could have been done better.

For the first part of question one, the top responses were that the movie gave insight into characters’ thoughts and feeling, and it showed that anyone can have a mental. Closely following was that the characters were relatable. All these answers show that it is important for adolescents to be able to connect with the character. Several students elaborated saying that they saw themselves or friends in Craig. It was helpful to see things that they were feeling and experiencing depicted on screen. It was also helpful to see a ‘normal’ high school student struggling with mental illness. Another common response to the first part of question one was that the movie showed how serious mental illness is. Some students were shocked that a person needed to be hospitalized for mental illness. Hospitals are a sign of being seriously sick, and that fact that Craig was hospitalized showed many students that mental illness is not a joke.

A majority of the students who answered the second part of question one said that the movie was unrealistic and overdramatic. The most noted example of this was the love story between Craig and Noel. Other students said that the story line should have gone deeper into what Craig was experiencing and how he got to the point of thinking about suicide. Overall, the students had more positive things to say about the movie’s depiction of mental illness than negative things.

The lesson that mental illness is serious came up again in responses to question three and was said by the greatest number of students. In total 20 students mentioned that the movie showed how mental illness is a serious issue. 13 of them did not believe that mental illness was serious before watching the film, and 7 students already knew that mental illness was serious. The two aspects that several of the students quoted as driving this message home were that Craig reached the point of thinking about suicide and that Craig was hospitalized. A fair number of students also mentioned that the movie shows how someone can get help. In the film, Craig called a suicide hotline and was referred to the emergency department.

According to the responses to question four, the greatest impacts movies about mental illness can have are increasing awareness and providing education. Most of the possible impacts students reported were positive ones. Some of the possible negative impacts that were discussed are common areas of controversy regarding mental illness movies such as the portrayal of stereotypes and the romanticization of mental illness.

Table 1: What Was Done Well
Positive Response Number of Students
Different mental illnesses shown 4
Acting and story 6
Showed that anyone can have mental illness 8
Showed seriousness of mental illness 7
Showed how to get help 4
Gave insight into thoughts and feelings 9
Showed that people with mental illness are not bad 1
Educational and entertaining at the same time 5
Characters were relatable 6
Showed how mental illness impacts people differently 1
Realistic 3
Truthful 1
Table 2: What Was Not Done Well
Negative Response Number of Students
Speed of recovery too quick 2
Made people seem crazy 1
Love story unrealistic 4
Did not show many family interactions 2
Shallow story line 5
Lack of outside support 1
Over-institutionalization 1
Should have shown what to do before a crisis is reached 2
Unrealistic and overdramatic 9
Table 3: How Did Student’s Knowledge and Attitudes Change
Knowledge and Attitude Response Number of Students
Cannot get better overnight 1
Increased sympathy 3
Learned how to get help 7
Mental illness is serious 13
Increased acceptance of others 2
Recovery is possible 3
People with mental illness are not bad people 1
Anyone can have mental illness 3
People are affected differently 1
Psychiatric facilities are different from the past 1
Mental illness is more common than originally thought 1
Did not learn anything 5
Attitude not changed 6
Already knew mental illness was serious 9
Already knew what was taught 3
Table 4: What Impacts Can Movies About Mental Illness Have
Impact of Film Response Number of Students
Depends on viewer 4
Encourage people to ask for help 4
Increase awareness 17
Educate 13
Increase empathy 4
Fight stereotypes 4
Help people feel less alone 4
Romanticize mental illness 2
Give unrealistic ideas about mental illness 5
Show harmful stereotypes 3
No impact 4