Portrayals of Mental Health Experiences on the Silver Screen Have Lasting Impact

Hollywood has a mixed record on how persons living with behavioral health experiences are portrayed. While some films, such as Take Shelter, include more honest and complex characters, unfortunately, these more accurate portrayals are far outnumbered by stigmatizing ones.
 
Mental health advocates are speaking out against the M. Night Shyamalan’s new film, Split, which hits theaters January 20. The film portrays an individual living with multiple personalities, otherwise known as dissociative identity disorder (DID), as a creepy and violent kidnapper of three young girls. As Mathew Rodriguez writes in a Mic article entitled “M. Night Shyamalan's 'Split' Trailer Suggests a Movie Rife With Mental Illness Stigma,” “this plot is just among the latest in a series of films throughout the decades that link mental health experiences and violence: films such as Psycho (1960), Halloween (1978), Misery (1990), Fatal Attraction (1987) and Silence of the Lambs (1990).”
 
A recent article in Scientific American assesses the history of how Hollywood has depicted mental health, and highlights the ways in which stigma continues to be fostered at the movies.
These portrayals only serve to reinforce the faulty association between violence and behavioral health experiences. As the Scientific American essay notes, “Research suggests the portrayal of mental illness in films is overwhelmingly negative—and may leave lasting impressions on audiences.  In a 2001 survey of community college students, more than 90 percent of respondents reported learning about mental illness from movies." 
 
What you can do:
 

  • Sign and share the petition asking Split actors to make a public service announcement (PSA) telling the truth about dissociative identity disorder (DID).
  • Sign and share another petition condemning Split’s transphobic representations.
  • Ask your friends and family to boycott films that reinforce mental health stigma.