Movie stereotypes misrepresent mental health
A leading psychiatrist and film expert — not a combination you come across everyday — has hit out at the presentation of mental health in the movies, particularly male mental health. Dr Peter Byrne says that characters with mental health problems are being depicted as 'more demotic and crueler than at any time in movie history'.
In a report for Time to Change, Doyle argues that movie images haven't moved on from the silent era: characters with a mental illness are either evil or simple, with nothing in between.
The report suggests that these images are contributing to a distorted picture of mental health in the public mind. A YouGov survey commissioned for the report found that almost half of us (49%) have seen people with a mental illness acting violently in films. Similar numbers (44%) believe that people with a mental illness will act violently in real life.
'Mental health stereotypes have not changed over a century of cinema. If anything, the comedy is crueler and the deranged psycho killer even more demotic,' Dr Byrne says.
He told malehealth: 'the majority of violent and comic stereotypes in film misrepresentations of mental illness are male. I guess cinematic men, even those untainted with mental illness, are loud and potentially violent. Probably for the same reasons we seldom see female psychopaths on film: All About Eve and The Last Seduction are two rare exceptions.
'It's worth remembering that in attributing good parts to actors, cinema has always been highly sexist.'
But while playing a 'nutter' might be a good role for an actor, it's not such good news for real men with real mental health problems.
The Dark Knight a 'new low'
Byrne cites Batman — the Dark Knight as a low point in depicting mental illness. The violence and humour based is almost entirely on a misunderstanding of schizophrenia, he says. 'Batman describes the Joker as a schizophrenic clown, and when the film's second hero Harvey Dent becomes "Two-Faceâ€ and embraces evil, the familiar stereotype of schizophrenia is activated.'
The report argues that while the movie industry embraces its responsibility to depict homosexuality and racism accurately, depictions of mental illness continue to be based on prejudice.
You could argue that these are merely movies and that people can tell the difference between fact and fiction. Maybe. But the film best remembered for depicting someone with a mental illness acting strangely or violently remains One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest which was released almost 35 years ago - the influence of movie stereotypes on attitudes can last a generation. But there are some more realistic portrayals of schizophrenia such as Daniel Craig's portrayal in Some Voices and Russell Crowe's in Beautiful Mind, says Dr Bryne.
Sue Baker, Director for Time to Change said: 'This report highlights that movies are the main source of information that reinforces negative stereotypes of mental illness above and beyond any other form of media. We need to make it clear to directors and producers that they can still break box office records without wrecking lives.'
Malehealth editor Jim Pollard said: 'male mental health is poorly understood in the media, in the medical profession and among men themselves. Simplistic screen misrepresentations can't help. Cinema is supposed to be about innovation - it would be great to see some.'
Page created on August 20th, 2009
Page updated on December 1st, 2009