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These “Mental Health Movies” Got Mental Illness Wrong

by Surya Shivanandan.
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Mental Health Movies that got mental illness wrong

Mental illness does not receive the attention it deserves, and in an attempt, to make it a more mainstream topic many movies and shows deal with this topic. The problem arises when mental illness is romanticized and portrayed wrongly by “mental health” Romantic Comedies. This does more harm than good for the cause. Many directors with the right intent have made movies that use mental illness to further their plot. Mental illness has also been romanticized by a lot of mental health movies where the flawed hero excels in every other field but his only shortcoming is his mental illness

Scenes like these encourage self-diagnosis and trivialize the severity of mental illness

Romanticizing mental illness has done the opposite effect that it may have intended to have. Many of the present generations look up at flawed heroes from mental health movies and have associated garnering success with a mental illness. The common belief is that you require a mental illness to be successful. This is not only wrong but detrimental to one’s psyche. This has caused many to fake mental illnesses to get sympathy and attention. (which is a mental illness in itself).  Mental health movies that are bad portrayals of mental illness are: –

Me Myself and Irene

Jim Carrey plays Charlie, a veteran Rhode Island state trooper that is very docile and everyone around him takes advantage of him. His wife immediately cheats on him with her limo driver and gives birth to black triplets. His wife then leaves him for the limo driver and makes him take care of the children. He is the town’s punching bag and faces ridicule from everyone around him. Due to extreme stress from prolonged social isolation, he develops a split personality named Hank to deal with confrontation. Hank is violent and excessively rude to everyone around. 

Me Myself and Irene is one of the mental health movies where the hero uses the dissociative identity disorder to gain the best of both worlds and work together to fight enemies and court Irene. Dissociative identity disorder is not portrayed correctly here and is used to move the plot along. The two personalities are not aware of each other and cannot be used to get the best of both worlds.

Fight Club

Fight club is one of the classics where the protagonist, Nick, is stuck in the mundanity of life and lives a boring nine to five life. He is a person with a dissociative identity disorder. His other personality Tyler is a charismatic and dominant person that gets what he wants and lives his life the way he decides to. He forms a cult based on what he thinks at the time is a moral fistfight between two people.

The film, although regarded as a classic, is yet another one of the movies that get mental illness wrong on several accounts. One is a severe trauma-induced dissociative identity disorder. Boredom or not having a purpose in life does not trigger a new personality to emerge. The personalities Tyler and Nick would not be able to communicate with each other or exchange dialogue like it was portrayed and they most definitely would not be able to beat each other up.

The Joker

The joker is a poster child for mental illness and suffers from a rather unique mental illness where he laughs or cries uncontrollably. The film does a great job highlighting how society systemically neglects mental health along with the ostracization of people suffering from mental illnesses. Joker pays homage to the mentally ill many times and tries to teach the audience to react from a place of compassion and acceptance rather than with dissent and incomprehension.

The Joker does a lot right to shed light on mental illness, making it perhaps one of the better mental health movies.  But when Arthur stops his medication Joker portrays his mental illness as the stereotypes he tried to break free of the start of the movie. This could elicit a wrong response and cause the views on mental health to revert its archaic roots.

A Beautiful Mind

In a beautiful mind, John Nash who is a remarkable mathematician suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. He sees things that do not exist in reality, and the movie uses this condition excessively to further the plot. His schizophrenia, through it exaggeration in many instances apparently makes the entire movie more wholesome. A Beautiful Mind received criticism for not being an accurate portrayal of his life as well as his mental illness. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration to call this flick as the classic definition of bad mental health movies. 

As bad as these movies have gotten mental illness wrong, some TV series like Monk, Sherlock, and Glee have broached the subject no better. In fact, even in the world of comedy Anime, mental health is often the butt of every comedic release. There are ways to talk about mental illness without having to romanticize it or getting too dark. Obviously we need better mental health movies and TV series. What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!


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1 comment

Sindhu September 21, 2020 - 1:15 pm

Interesting read…


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