Hollywood and Mental Illness: Profit at What Cost?

As an addict of true crime and thriller movies that orbit around the psychological realm, I am constantly searching out new directors and niche genres of horror/thriller movies. I am not alone; the amount of success that true crime, psychological thrillers, and horror movies accumulated over the last few years is gargantuan. Everybody loves a movie or a series that makes their hair stand on end for the next few weeks. I’ve noticed several movies, and a trend in these genres in general, that make my hair stand on end, but not in the way that I might like. A huge problem with the rise of genres like these is that in some cases, films tend to focus on antagonists with mental health issues or disabilities. These films are problematic and in my opinion should not be allowed to accrue success because they capitalize on demonizing groups of people, such as those with psychological disorders, mental illness, or disability who are already viewed through a negative connotation by our society. 

One film in which we find these sorts of problematic fictional narratives is Split, where James McAvoy plays Kevin, a man with 23 personalities. Kevin kidnaps three teenage girls and holds them captive with the threat of a 24th personality emerging that would end up murdering them. Although they don’t refer to the disorder by name, this is obviously implying that Kevin has Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), a disorder identified by psychologists in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). 

 

By creating the association between members of the population who suffer from DID and dramatized fictional violence, we further demonize those people who are already suffering from being socially ostracized. According to findings of a meta-analysis of 29 studies published in the PLOS Journal of Medicine conducted by Fazel, Khosla, Doll, and Geddes, as many as 71% of homeless people potentially suffer from personality-related disorders.

We are taught to fear people with mental illnesses like these because there is a lack of understanding surrounding the disorders and the difficulties that innocent mentally ill people deal with every day. As a result, people with illnesses like these are often unable to find work, and end up on the street with little to no access to treatment. 

Image source: Pixabay

This vastly unjust stereotype of homeless people as violent and crazy present in the criminal justice system, as well as in our society as a whole, is amplified and further perpetuated by movies like Split. It is obviously extremely morally wrong to use those who are mentally ill for our own entertainment. We only acknowledge those with mental illness when it benefits us fiscally or entertains us, and we choose to ignore them when they truly need our help to find treatment and a place in our society.