Mental illness grossly underrepresented in popular movies, study finds – Deadline

People with mental health issues are rarely portrayed in Hollywood’s most popular films, and their portrayal “remains as predominantly white, male, straight, able-bodied characters,” a new study has found.

The report, by Dr Stacy Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, found that of the 4,502 speaking or named characters in the 200 highest-grossing films of 2019, only 1.5% were depicted with mental health issues. , compared to 1.7% previously. in 2016. In contrast, 21% of American adults suffer from mental illness, according to national population research studies such as the US National Comorbidity Survey.

“Stories can open a window to different worlds and experiences, but the results of this study demonstrate that mental health is rarely a focal point in popular movies,” Smith said. “With the growing need for mental health care in the United States and ongoing concerns about wellness, storytellers and creatives are missing out on critical opportunities to educate audiences.”

More than half of the films included in the latest report featured no characters with mental health issues, and 30% had only one such character. The report, titled “Mental Health Conditions Across 200 Popular Films”, noted that of the characters portrayed with mental health conditions, 59.2% were male and three-quarters were white. Only 16 were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, only two were LGBTQ, and 42.3% had a disability.

USC Annenberg

The seven different mental health issues that were portrayed in the 200 highest-grossing films of 2019 included addiction, anxiety/PTSD, depression/mood disorders, suicide, significant thought disorders , cognitive impairment and obsessive-compulsive disorder. There were more representations of anxiety/PTSD in 2019 than in 2016, while representations of cognitive disorders and spectrum disorders decreased, with other mental health conditions remaining in line with 2016.

“The portrayal of mental health in movies has a powerful role to play, especially in this time of a global mental health crisis,” said Dr. Christine Yu Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for the Prevention of suicide. “Entertainment educates the public, whether intentionally or not. And because humans are deeply wired for social connection and imitation, contagion can occur with harmful effects or with positive impact. Depictions can not only de-stigmatize and stop perpetuating dangerous tropes about people living with mental health issues, but they can also have the potential to deepen mental health literacy and inspire hope. Everyone has mental health, and now more than ever, Americans crave information and resources to enable us not only to cope, but also to thrive and support the mental health of others.

The report also revealed that movie characters with mental illness are often derided. Nearly three-quarters experienced some form of belittlement, 45.1% being derided specifically about their mental health, and more than 40% being the subject of jokes or humor related to their mental health, an increase from 22% in 2016.

“The confluence of these contextual factors means that when mental health is presented in film, it is often stigmatized or belittled,” Smith said. “For the public, the nature of representations of mental health may increase the possibility of negative effects with respect to real-world outcomes.”

Characters with mental health issues were also frequently linked to violence: 63.4% were perpetrators of violence, up from 46% in 2016, and 66.2% were victims of violence. Over a third (38%) died at some point in the film, including by homicide or suicide, and 59.3% who perished did so by violent means, including 22.2% who died by suicide.

Only 29.6% of characters with a mental health condition were shown to therapy, including individual appointments, group therapy, substance abuse, support, and hospital care, while only 12.7 % received medication or other treatment. The 2019 films showed more characters receiving both therapy and medication or other treatment than in 2016.

With solutions in mind, the Initiative brought Jay Shetty, a best-selling author and On purpose podcast host, on board to serve as Chief Wellness Advisor, where he will serve as a resource for the program and entertainment industry as a whole on mental health and wellness issues, developing new ways to approach the subject on screen and on set, to work towards positive change.

“It’s always been my passion to bridge the gap between mental health and entertainment,” Shetty said. “The access the Initiative has to dig deeper into these important issues on screen and on sets and bring about real systemic change within the industry is what excites me the most.”

Drawing on its mental health media guide, the Initiative says it offers “a blueprint for mental health policy that can be adopted by production companies, studios and other groups. This policy describes ways in which creative talent, executives and those who oversee production can tell authentic stories, provide opportunities to support the mental health of those working in production and provide the public with more information about the Mental Health.

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