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Villainizing Mental Illness

Updated: Feb 22

Conversations about mental health can be intimidating – it’s talking

about an experience nobody except you sees or feels. So, when mental

illnesses are depicted in pop culture and media, it can be a relief to

those who suffer from them to see that they are not alone in their

feelings. But most depictions of mental illness in the media are not

healthy. Most TV shows and movies have an extremely poor grasp on

what it means to have a mental illness and end up perpetuating harmful

stereotypes that feed the stigmas attached to it.

The most jarring stigmatizations of mental illness lie in the

film/book/comic portrayals of antagonist with mental illness. For years,

creators have lazily linked mental illness with violent behaviour. It isn’t

always as obvious as the Batman franchise’s “Arkham Asylum for the

criminally insane” but there are many examples. Comic and comic book

adaptations often use mental illness as the reason a ‘normal’ person

suddenly starts committing atrocious acts, such as the Green Goblin in

Spiderman, and the Joker in Batman. This is an incredibly misinformed

and dangerous notion. Less than 5 percent of individuals with a serious

mental illness become violent. A person with mental illness is much

more likely to be a victim – rather than a perpetrator – of violence. A very

common disorder villains are shown to have is psychopathy (Antisocial

Personality Disorder). Psychopathy can be broadly defined as a

personality disorder characterized by diminished empathy, a lack of guilt

or remorse, and a tendency to manipulate or antagonize others. The

Hollywood Psychopath tends to be highly intelligent with a preference for

intellectual stimulation, a stylish and vain demeanour, an always-in-

control attitude, and exceptional skills at killing people – a combination of

traits that is rarely ever seen in people with real psychopathy.

Characters with schizophrenia are presented as homicidal maniacs in

slasher movies. These portrayals disseminate misinformation about

schizophrenia as well as other forms of severe, and less-talked about,

mental illnesses. Many movies spread the false stereotype that people

with schizophrenia are prone to violence. Other films have even

presented people with schizophrenia as being possessed.

In his book Movies and Mental Illness, Psychologist Danny Wedding

talks about how movies perpetuate such negative stereotypes. “Films

such as Psycho (1960) perpetuate the continuing confusion about the

relationship between schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder

(formerly multiple personality disorder); Friday the 13th (1980) and A


Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) both perpetuate the misconception that

people who leave psychiatric hospitals are violent and dangerous;

movies such as The Exorcist (1973) suggest to the public that mental

illness is the equivalent of possession by the devil; and movies such as

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) make the case that psychiatric

hospitals are simply prisons in which there is little or no regard for

patient rights or welfare. These films in part account for the continuing

stigma of mental illness.” The thriller film Split stars James McAvoy as a

man living with dissociative identity disorder, who kidnaps three young

girls. The film trivializes a complex mental illness and reinforces the

harmful notion that we need to fear people living with complex mental

illnesses.

For people who haven’t encountered mental illness in a personal way,

it’s easy to think that those dealing with mental illness – some of the

strongest people in the world - are crazy or violent or untrustworthy. It is

easy to be scared of them. But they are people who fight to get out of

bed every day, who have to learn to love themselves, who have to fight

with their minds every day. And they are not villains.This is your blog post. Blogs are a great way to connect with your audience and keep them coming back. They can also be a great way to position yourself as an authority in your field. To edit your content, click Manage Blog. From the Dashboard, you can edit posts and also add brand new posts with ease.


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