I’ve felt this way before.
But now, I realize
there is no greater pain
than the frigid waves of sadness
washing over you again.

It starts in your heart,
encasing it in an armor of ice;
its coldness licking at your chest,
its numbness soaking your veins,
its frozen tendrils slowly reaching towards
fingers and toes.
Until, finally,
you are submerged in chilling darkness.

The reason why it must hurt
so much more this time
than last, is that;
before,
I didn’t know just how sweet
or warm
the shoreline’s breath could be.
—  "It’s hard to feel your body lose itself again,"   - Stephanie Mills

We Spoke to a Psychologist About How Hollywood Portrays Mental Illness

Look at any classic horror film—Nightmare on Elm StreetFriday the 13thThe Shining—and you’re likely to find mental illness. It’s a convenient, if inaccurate, explanation for the maniacal violence that makes up the backbone of these stories. But in most films portraying mental illness, especially violent and bloody horror films, real life pathology is willfully abandoned in favor of melodramatic storytellling. At best, it’s lazy; at worst, it publicly and repeatedly demonizes the people who need the most help. In a recent article I wrote about the mentally ill being killed in disproportionate numbers by police, many people commented along the lines of “Well, of course, they’re much more dangerous,” which anybody working in mental health can tell you is not only untrue, but is the direct result of the media’s focus on a fictitious link between mental illness and violence.

I spoke with Dr. Danny Wedding, a former director of the Missouri Institute of Mental Health and co-author of Movies and Mental Illness: Using Films to Understand Psychopathology, to learn more about some of the more common movie myths.

VICE: How do you think mental illness is generally represented in film?
Dr. Danny Wedding: I mean, slasher films like Friday the 13th, films that portray people with mental illness as homicidal maniacs, those are pretty awful, and there are a lot of myths still being portrayed in films. But at the same time, there are many major films that do a surprisingly good job, and it’s becoming increasingly common for directors and producers to hire psychologists and psychiatrists as consultants.

 

What about the connection between violence and mental illness?
Yeah, perhaps the most common myth is that people with mental illness are dangerous and violent, and the evidence is very clear that somebody with a disease like schizophrenia is far more likely to be the victim of violence than to be the perpetrator of violence. People with mental illness, homeless people who you see on the street typically, they are victims. They’re robbed, they’re raped, they’re murdered, but they’re not robbers, rapists, and murderers. Usually when violence occurs, it occurs with family members, it doesn’t involve strangers, and usually involves people who are mentally ill and abusing drugs or alcohol.

Do you think that people like yourself—psychologists—are also misrepresented?
Yes, but it’s getting better. There are a number of recurring motifs. Sometimes mental health professionals are presented as being incompetent and buffoons… Did you see the movie What About Bob?

Actually I just watched that recently. With Bill Murray?
Yeah, right. I think it’s a great movie, but Richard Dreyfuss plays a psychologist and he’s kind of bumbling and incompetent, and I think there’s a lot of humor, but often times therapists are portrayed as looking foolish, looking silly, and not having much to offer. Sometimes, in movies like Hitchcock’s Psycho, they are portrayed as omniscient, they can see into the deep, the dark, and dirty. They see things that no one else can see. Sometimes, in movies like Silence of the Lambs, they’re portrayed as murders—Hannibal the Cannibal was a psychiatrist. In a movie like The Prince of Tides, they’re portrayed as unethical. Frequently in films, psychiatrists and psychologists are shown sleeping with their patients, having affairs. There’s a movie called Tin Cup in which a therapist trades psychotherapy for golf lessons and winds up seducing the golf pro. That portray therapists as being unethical or ineffectual or having powers that they really don’t have, like a special ability to see inside somebody’s personality and to make predictions about behavior, and the fact is that psychologists and psychiatrists really aren’t much better than anybody else at predicting future behavior.

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“Making this movie, and what we had to contend with as actors… needing to rely on each other the way that a company does, is incredibly helpful now going into theater. We all operated as a unit, and on a lot of films its not that way at all. It’s a very separate experience.” Emma Stone on shooting Birdman

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