Horror films are arguably the best part of the Halloween season. However, as much as I enjoy horror films as the next person, there is an undeniable truth that must be brought to light; horror films portray mental illness poorly. Considering the media’s influence on society’s views, it is unsurprising that there is a stigma attached to mental illness.
According to an article from the American Journal of Psychiatry Residents’ Journal, the 1960 film, “Psycho”was a prime example of the poor portrayal of mental illness in horror films. The main antagonist, Norman Bates was a man who seemed gentle and reserved in some moments and a cold and calculating killer in other moments. Near the end of the movie, Bates was revealed to have killed his mother and had an alternate personality based off of her.” Bates was based on Ed Gein, a murderer who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and classified as “legally insane.” Schizophrenia is a psychological disorder characterized by thoughts or actions that seem out of touch with reality, such as disorganized speech or behavior. Considering this fact, Bates’ actions would closely resemble dissociative identity disorder, a disorder characterized by possessing two or more distinct personalities, as opposed to schizophrenia. This poor representation in “Psycho” implies that schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder are the same thing, when the two disorders have vast and rather obvious differences. A representation such as this leads to stigma and misinformation because it does not properly define two different psychological disorders, causing viewers to have misconceptions on what the terms mean and why they are different.
Another movie that poorly portrays mental illness is the 2011 movie, “The Roommate,” as mentioned by an article from “Perspectives in Psychiatric Care.” “The Roommate” has an antagonist by the name of Rebecca, a college student who is revealed to have bipolar disorder. Throughout the movie, Rebecca spirals down into more violent and obsessive behavior towards the protagonist, Sara Matthews, and the rest of the characters. Certain symptoms of bipolar disorder such as mood shifts and self-harming behavior were shown in the movie to imply Rebecca’s condition, but it misrepresents the mind of one suffering from bipolar disorder by demonizing someone suffering from it.
Some may argue that the media does not have as strong of an impact on people’s perceptions on mental illness. However, an excerpt from an article from “Perspectives in Psychiatric Care” states that films are influential to our society due to their purpose of conveying messages and information. If films such as “Psycho” and “The Roommate” represent mental illness in a negative light, then stigma is inevitable. It is due to stereotypes such as the “homicidal maniac,” that people with mental illness face stigma.
As enjoyable as horror movies are, we must not forget the stigma that they cause when they use misinformation and stereotypes to convey messages. If we strive to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental illness, we must first improve influential pieces of media such as film by having them provide more accurate portrayals of those with mental illness and not treating those with mental illness as less than human.