Mental Health in Hollywood

Updated: May 20

Movies reach huge global audiences and can have a powerful influence on opinions and attitudes of people who watch them. If we were to weigh up every single film that shows mental illness, the vast majority would be horror films. Of those the majority of people shown with mental illness would be presented as violent or murderous. For decades Hollywood has painted a less than pretty picture of mental illnesses, but it seems to be getting better. Hollywood could play a key role in battling the stigma around mental illness, and some examples of movies that represent mental illness are Silver linings playbook, and Perks of being a wallflower and It’s kind of a funny story.

Most movies that touch on mental illnesses show only two types of people, the obviously insane and the totally normal. The movie Silver linings playbook however is different. This movie is about Pat Solitano, a man living with bipolar disorder who has recently been hospitalized and a women named Tiffany Maxwell who has mental health struggles of her own. They both are navigating together through a loss of a relationship (Pat’s recent divorce and Tiffany was recently widowed). The director of this movie said in an interview, “Pat’s not the only one with issues. His father has OCD. The girlfriend has issues, the sister-in-law has issues. Even his best friend has issues. All the characters are grappling with something. I wanted to show that we’re all in this together.”. Another great thing about this movie is Tiffany’s character. I love how the movie shows the link between sex and mental illness. When Pat meets Tiffany she’s jagged and angry, particularly at the perception that she’s promiscuous. She was fired for sleeping with everyone in the office, but the movie doesn’t portray her to be some nymphomaniac who can’t stop sleeping with people even though her husband died, but the opposite. The movie showed how she was struggling with how her depression turned her sex drive on and off. Although this movie accurately presents what bipolar disorder is like without sugar coating or glamorizing it, the movie isn’t without flaws. For example, in the movie we find out Pat Solitano is triggered by hearing the song “my cherie amour”, because it was not only his wedding song, but the song that was playing when he found his wife cheating on him. Pat’s therapist later plays the song in the waiting room to see if it was still triggering him. As Crystal Lancaster, a mighty contributor, pointed out in her piece “My take on ‘Silver Linings Playlist’ as a Woman with Bipolar Disorder”, the therapists actions were unrealistic and unethical. But overall this movie shows a more nuanced take on mental illness, which is exactly what the film industry needs when it comes to presenting mental health issues.

Perks of Being a Wallflower is based off a book with the same name. It’s a story primarily about Charlie and how he adjusts to high school after his best friend takes his own life. The author of the book, Stephen Chbosky said he decided to turn his book into a movie because “ it’s harder to feel alone if you see dozens of people around you laughing and crying or nodding their heads at the same issues”. The movie also captures the devastating impact that sexual abuse can have and that mental illnesses can arise from it. This movie also does a really good job of showing the highs and lows that can derive from mental illness, for example it shows him having fun with his friends but at the same time he deals with anxiety and depression.

It’s kind of a funny story Is a film also based off of a book with the same name. It’s about a 16 year old boy named Craig who checks himself into a psychiatric ward because of his suicidal ideation and depression. Hollywood takes a more comedic approach than what would happen in real life, but it is still really good that they don’t portray psychiatric wards to be scary or unsafe and that they don’t make the other patients seem scary. This movie helps normalize the fact that sometimes people need this level of care.

Silver Linings Playbook, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and It’s Kind of a Funny Story are good examples of how mental illness should be portrayed in film. There are a lot of bad examples to look at, because for decades Hollywood has shown people with mental illnesses as being violent or dangerous. However, it is slowly but surely getting better. Hollywood could help battle against the stigma around mental illnesses easily, because movies have a powerful influence on people’s opinions and attitudes when it come to subjects that they don’t really know much about already. If one only sees people in movies who are mentally ill portrayed only as dangerous, then there is a chance that one is going to think that people with mental illnesses are dangerous in real life. Especially if someone isn’t as educated on the topic already. Hopefully the progress on how Hollywood presents mental illness continues to get better.

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