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Mental health in horror films and its impact on society

Horror movies are the best. Through camera angles, lighting, music and sound, they possess the ability to grab the audience and frighten the hell out of them. Horror movies started out depicting evil through things that don’t resemble us. We saw the era of vampires and werewolves, the creature of the black lagoon, and otherworldly evils (think space) in film, but now we are starting to see the portrayal of evil through things that do resemble us. People have become the monsters. Specifically, those with mental health conditions.

We first see this in the German Expressionist film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” It followed an insane hypnotist that used a somnambulist (a sleep walker) to commit murders. This was the first film that linked mental illness to violence. It started the notion that those who have mental conditions are not safe. That they are dangerous. That they are murderous.

This stigma was only amplified with Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in 1960. Even just the title stigmatizes mental health: in this case, dissociate identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder). At the of the film it is revealed that Norman Bates’s father had died when he was young and, years later, when his mother (with whom it is implied he had an incestual relationship) tried to remarry, Norman killed them both. He then acted as his mother to keep her alive and soon developed dissociative identity disorder. Now, this disorder usually forms when the person experiences an extremely traumatic event and the personality/person fragments and split. Switches between personalities are usually coated in amnesia so the person who has this disorder might not even know that they do. Personalities don’t have to be polar opposites, but rather can have slight differences. This disorder isn’t a choice, and just because someone has multiple personalities, it doesn’t mean they are violent. In fact, people with any form of mental health condition are more prone to have violent acts happen to them rather than to harm others.

Newer movies, like “Split,” also perpetuate the stigma. This movie also features someone with dissociative identity disorder, but this time, one of his twenty-four personalities kidnaps three girls and kills two of them.

Most movies about mental health are horror movies where the evil is someone who has depression, PTSD, dissociative identity disorder, or schizophrenia. It is rare to see mental health portrayed through a sympathetic lens and even more rare to see it be portrayed in a realistic lens. It is important that as a society we know that these violent portrayals are false, but it’s hard to believe this when the media says the same thing. Two weeks ago, America experienced its largest mass shooting yet. The media scrambled to give Stephen Paddock a reason for doing this besides terrorism. They suggested all different types of mental illnesses that he could have had. They even did an autopsy on his brain and found no abnormalities. 

When film, media, and government officials repeatedly link violence to mental illness, they are saying that people who are have a mental health condition are not in control, that they can’t help but act violently. It is time to realize this stigma and to stop believing in it. 

A sarcastic redhead who is usually late.
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