Written by Chris Gelderd
May 8th – 14th marks Mental Health Awareness Week.
When you say “mental health” to many, the first thing they think about is person who acts a little different to others, who does not conform to many social statuses, and is generally a bit of an outsider. Mental health is so much more than that, and many people simply do not understand the far-reaching effects mental health has on those who suffer with it, and also the ones who love, care, work or even simply know the affected party.
What can encompass mental health? Wow. Where do you start?
Anorexia. Hallucinations. Panic attacks. Tourettes. Work-life balance.
The list is comprehensive to say the least.
Hollywood hasn’t shied away from mental health in film, and many popular films over the years help spread awareness of mental health issues, the effect they have and the consequences. Yes, of course, Hollywood doesn’t always get it right, and it has to make subject matter entertaining to make money, but studios, cast and crew do try to inject mental health into movies where they can, and they do an important thing by doing this – spread the word and help the general public become aware.
I like Carmine Falcone’s quote in ‘Batman Begins’ to sum up this taboo:
“This is a world you’ll never understand. And you always fear what you don’t understand.”
Mental health is a world many will never understand, and because of that, they fear it.
Let’s take a look at a snapshot of popular movies that have tackled mental health in some way and left an impact on audiences, created important discussion and spread awareness to help alleviate that lack of understanding.
AUTISM – Rain Man (1988) / The Imitation Game (2014) / Power Rangers (2017)
Autism is a growing disorder which is characterised by a lack of social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication and restricted or repetitive behaviour. Dustin Hoffman as Raymond in ‘Rain Man’ was the first big glimpse into Autism via Hollywood, and as there was little understanding or support at that time, it acted a double edged sword. “Rain Man” is the term people use for Autistic people because that’s what they expect – quirky people who make funny noises and remember everything. But, it made people take note and that was the start of what is now a growing understanding and study of Autism, even now in film. Things have come a long way and continue to do so.
DEMENTIA – On Golden Pond (1981) / The Notebook (2004) / Remember (2015)
Dementia, bracketed with Alzheimer’s disease, causes a long term and gradual decrease in the ability to think for themselves, process emotion and affect their daily functioning. A heart-breaking issue, this lends itself to a strong emotional core that comes across in powerful films. It helps us understand how this can slowly take away a person, without us even knowing it until it’s too late. It shows how we can help them, how we can cope and what helps them remember moments thought long gone. ‘The Notebook’ does this to great effect.
DEPRESSION– Interiors (1978) / Cake (2014) / Inside Out (2015)
Depression encompasses many factors including low self-esteem, low energy, false beliefs and a general low mood. It is becoming increasingly common in today’s society, but one many who don’t understand can dismiss easily. Film shows us how triggers can cause depression – major changes to lifestyle, medication, health or social issues can lead people experiencing depression. Jennifer Aniston in ‘Cake’ portrays this brilliantly, and even Pixar help touch upon the subject for young audiences in ‘Inside Out’.
EROTOMANIA – Fatal Attraction (1987) / The Crush (1993) / Enduring Love (2004)
A delusional disorder in which the suffer can easily believe another person is in love, or infatuated, with them. This lends itself to other areas such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. For effect, this is played to a more sinister side, creating thrillers and haunting stories told from a victim’s point of view, but with moments that help us understand why the suffer feels the way they do, which is often over-looked and ignored.
OBSESSIVE-COMPULSIVE DISORDER – Sleeping With The Enemy (1991) / The Aviator (2004) / Silver Linings Playbook (2012)
This disorder has people depend on routines, checking things repeatedly and trying to stay in control. Linked to anxiety and a risk of suicide, OCD can dominate a person’s day and life by their need to perform certain routines and have certain thoughts and processes in order to cope, linking back to an earlier trauma.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE – Pulp Fiction (1994) / Pure (2002) / Flight (2012)
Otherwise known as addiction or dependence, substance use disorder (SUD) can refer to any physical substance, but is primarily alcohol and drug related which affects the suffers physical and mental state, and affects the safety of them around others. Film continues to deliver powerful messages about the roads that lead to SUD and also the consequences if it isn’t worked on to be righted.
Agoraphobia. Eating disorders. Hypersexuality. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Suicide.
As said before, the list is too great to fully explore, but films for all ages, from ‘Finding Nemo’ to ‘Trainspotting’ have continued to help bring mental health to the big screen and for all generations to start to see and understand that this is NOT something to fear, but something to strive to help deal with and find support for the sufferers and their families and friends.
For more information on Mental Health, please visit this website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk
If you need someone to talk to, to listen or understand, then you are not going to be alone in finding that support.
Take some time out to discuss mental wellbeing with your friends and family if you feel there is need to. Encourage them, and yourself, to open up, to share and discuss, and most importantly, not to feel alone or judged by society.