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The Power of Cinema and Breaking the Stigma on Mental Health

The power of cinema is unbounded. It can change someone’s perspectives and let other people see the plight of the oppressed. It can even influence and shape how people think about key issues in today’s society. That being said, the responsibility still falls on filmmakers to be wary of the stories they put out, especially on representation.

Mental health in movies: romantic or violent

Throughout the years, the film industry has produced so many movies that feature mental health. Most of these portrayals are that of violence. A recent example is Joker (2019), which received criticism for its dangerous and inaccurate representation of mental health issues.

In an Insider article, Dr. Ziv Cohen highlights that the film may contribute to the stigma that people with mental health disorders are violent. Contrary to this portrayal, “persons with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than to commit them.”

On the other hand, some movies tend to romanticize mental illness, using it as a plot device to bring two people together. The Filipino film, Last Night (2017), is a good example of this. The meet-cute is a failed suicide attempt.
Throughout the film, the protagonists make a promise to continue this failed attempt together, turning it into a date. Not only does the film feature various ways of taking one’s life, but it also portrays suicide as an effect of “one-dimensional motivations.” This portrayal of mental health is detrimental to society as it reduces the severity of the situation into a fun and cute romantic narrative.

Breaking the stigma

woman sitting near the windowThe stigma surrounding mental health is not only dangerous because it causes misinformation. It is also most detrimental to those who are suffering from it. People who suspect that they may have a mental health illness are discouraged from seeking professional help because they are scared to be judged or discriminated against. This is why breaking the stigma is necessary in today’s world.

Fortunately, more and more people are seeking professional help. In 2014, the percentage of people receiving mental health treatment jumped by 12.9 percent, making the number 37.3 percent for the year. By 2018, the number increased to 41 percent.

More and more people are speaking up, as well. Talks about mental health are becoming more normalized, emphasizing that these disorders are no different than physical injuries. Just like having a broken leg, people who have depression, for example, are unable to get out of their beds. They, too, need the attention of physician staffing, diagnoses, and proper prescription to get better.

This recent conversation on mental health should push filmmakers and storytellers to create better representations of mental illnesses in the coming years. Movies should avoid using mental illness as a reason to cower into when violence arises. They should also get rid of the idea that “love conquers all” because it doesn’t heal mental illnesses. By breaking the stigma, filmmakers can avoid these harmful portrayals. Eventually, with proper representation, the stigma on mental health will be broken.

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