Stereotypes of Mental Illness in the Media

Characters with mental health problems in movies are being depicted as more demotic and crueler than at any time in movie history: characters with a mental illness are either evil or simple, with nothing in between. 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.

These images are contributing to a distorted picture of mental health in the public mind. 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. Both of these beliefs are, of course, false.

This trend is especially harmful to real men with real mental health problems, because the vast majority of the actors falsely portraying mental illness are men.

The Offenders:

The Dark Knight

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-Face' and embraces evil, the familiar stereotype of schizophrenia is activated.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

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.

Looney Tunes
Dinner With Schmucks

More Realistic Portrayals:

Schizophrenia: Daniel Craig in Some Voices and Russell Crowe in Beautiful Mind
Autism: Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man
Borderline personality disorder: Angelina Jolie in Girl Interrupted
Dissociative identity disorder: Three Faces of Eve