Unsane, released March 2019, is about a woman, Sawyer, who was just driven to a new city by her stalker. In trying to get help, Sawyer ends up at a lockdown psychiatric center. While there, she runs into an employee that she believes to be the man she was stalked by, and the film asks the question, “who’s actually crazy?” I went to go see this movie because it seemed like a fun thrill, but as someone who spent time in a mental health facility, it pricked me.
The movie starts with Sawyer trying to get help from a counselor who tells her to sign some “standard” forms. The forms turn out to be consent forms that allow a behavioral clinic to hold Sawyer for observation to decide if she must be committed for an extended period. Watching this scene unfold felt all too familiar. Being pushed by someone you trust because of their position to sign or agree to something without the full extent of what is happening being explained to you. As a new patient at a mental health facility, you assume those that are there are there to help but, sometimes, they are under-qualified individuals trained to make money off of you, not help.
Once inside the facility, Sawyer meets the people she’ll be spending her stay with. As expected, they are other people facing mental health problems in a place that may not be offering them proper care. Time spent in a clinic focused on mental health is supposed to be about learning healthy habits, tools and practices to apply in the real world. Where this becomes tricky is when you’re surrounded by so many people who lack these skills. There is nothing wrong with those who have a mental illness; they just haven’t learned what others may have to help get through life. Practicing these things in this kind of environment may not reflect what reality might. During my own stay, I had to learn tools to cope with the other people there.
The employees in Unsane are no better. Because of mental health stigmas and poorly trained and unqualified staff, employees treat residents more like untrained dogs than people who lack the proper tools. Sawyer spends her time in the behavioral clinic dismissed, ignored and gaslit by her staff. The treatment causes her to lash out in frustration and spiral out of control. I never went through it to that extent, but often my treatment center left me feeling disempowered. When I advocated for myself—like Sawyer—I was told I was being crazy and was instantly dismissed.
The film continues to explore the mental health industry in ways I couldn’t get into without spoiling the fantastic film. Unsane is a great portrayal of a system that is thought to help but can often be a very destructive force in individual’s lives. My time spent in treatment wasn’t all bad and in fact saved my life: but at a price. The toxicity of my therapeutic boarding school left scars that I’m working on healing even three whole years later. Oddly enough, that same school gave me the tools to cope. The mental industry needs to be reevaluated and closely looked at so it can be a great help in the lives of people. Unsane gives a great artistic view into what life like that can be like.