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How Mental Health Conditions are Portrayed in Films

Like it or not, a big portion of what we know about the world we learn through movies. Over two thousand films come out every year, worldwide, and at least about half of these touch on the topic of mental sanity or downright deal with mental health problems. The effects of inaccurate storytelling are vast; it results in misinformed audiences, and it can stigmatize people with mental health issues and their families. 

This raises the question of how accurately these conditions are depicted in movies and how much better they could do looking forward. Below are some of the most common movie tropes on mental health conditions and some recommendations of films that did it right. 

Alzheimer’s disease

For how obscure this mental condition is, and how little we know about what goes on in the mind of someone with severe Alzheimer’s, it’s a condition that we’re bound to encounter at some point in our lives if we haven’t already. Unfortunately, we don’t have testimonials of people with severe Alzheimer’s to let us know how accurately the condition has been represented so far.

What we do have is family members and the medical community who can explain what living with and taking care of someone with this deteriorating condition is like. Some movies that did Alzheimer’s good are Still Alice (2014), A Separation (2011), and Away from Her (2006).

Autism

Autism is considered a spectrum, meaning that it’s a different experience for every autistic person. With how varied Autism is, and how different the personalities and characteristics of each autistic person are, it’s remarkable how many common tropes can be found in the genre. These tropes not only damage our perception of autism, but they can also make the lives of autistic people more difficult.

The trope known as “The Savant” or the autistic kid who is a math genius, or has an eidetic memory, can be very problematic because not every person with autism is like this, and it can be very stressful to live up to this stereotype. 

Another trope, equally damaging, is that of the eternal child. While autism also varies in terms of emotional and social maturity, not every autistic person behaves like a child. More importantly, autism is a lifelong condition, and we tend to forget that autistic adults still need our support, even more so now that they have lost the structure school provides.

Anxiety and Depression

Very few films depict anxiety and depression disorders accurately. In the name of art, they tend to either stigmatize or romanticize these conditions. The truth is, that anxiety and depression are increasingly more common, and the movie-going public should know that with proper education and adequate treatment, it’s perfectly possible for people who experience anxiety and depression to live normal, fulfilling lives.

Some movies that did a good job of portraying anxiety/depression are A Silent Voice (2016), Cake (2014), and Anomalisa (2015).

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