James McAvoy and Anya Taylor-Joy in "Glass." (Jessica Kourkounis/Universal Pictures/TNS)
Watching James McAvoy’s character switch between his different alters in the thrilling movie “Split” is enough to send shivers down anyone’s spine, but it’s movies like this that create problematic stigmas about mental health.
Hollywood has been portraying people with mental illnesses as killers, drug addicts and hurdles for heroes to conquer for as long as I can remember. Movies like “Split,” and now “Glass,” are only upping the ante by elevating men and women with less common disorders to a super-villain status.
Fans of popular psychological mysteries and thrillers might argue directors behind these films are bringing awareness to these uncommon disorders, but contrary to what those who work in Hollywood have been told, all publicity is not good publicity.
Dissociative Identity Disorder, the main character’s diagnosis, is the new term for Multiple Personality Disorder under the fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, only two percent of people in the United States experience dissociative disorders, which encompasses three main disorders: dissociative amnesia, depersonalization disorder, and DID. Although it is easy to think how small a number two percent is, that’s over 6 million people.
When watching a film, viewers voluntarily participate in a willing suspension of disbelief. Although this makes the viewing experience more powerful, it also creates a buffer between what a consumer is encountering and logical reasoning. Younger members of the audience are more susceptible to bigoted or out-right erroneous writing.
For a lot of the creative minds behind record-breaking films, it might be easy to forget that the movies being made have an effect on people. As an aspiring clinical psychologist, it isn’t as difficult.
There are human beings behind these diagnoses. There are mothers trying to live day-to-day with disorders like DID, worrying that their young children will see them as villains; there are students experiencing what their peers can only catch a glimpse of through film, wondering when everyone will find out their diagnosis and think they are crazy.
It is the job of filmmakers to assess the impact their project will have on the thoughts and actions of others. Instead of focusing on making a “quick buck,” understand that millions of people are fighting themselves from the moment they get up in the morning to the second they drift to sleep; recognize the part you play in the lives of those with mental illness because it’s far more than you realize.
As viewers, it is important to create a clear boundary between Hollywood and reality. Remember that not every movie made that includes psychological disorders is made for educational purposes, and don’t take information portrayed in films at face value.