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Mentally ill people: stereotyped in movies?

Americans love a good story, and they spend billions every yeat at the movies to hear the stories Hollywood tells. But a new critical review, published recently shows that when those stories involve people who suffer with mental illnesses or those who treat them, moviemakers almost always get the story wrong.

The review, conducted by psychiatrists Steven E. Hyler, M.D. of New York State Psychiatric Indtitute, Glen O. Gabbard, M.D. of the C.F. Menninger Memorial Hospital, and Irving Schneider,M.D., a psychiatrist in private practice in Chevy Chase, Md., says that movies, to ehich so many turn for entertainment and understanding of the human condition, almost uniformily present a view of mental illness and those who suffer with them that neglects the real suffering and triumph of their lives.

"Movies and television have generally portrayed people with mental illnesses in sterotyped ways," says Dr.Hyler. "And we believe this has an important and underestimated negative effect on the public's perception of these people."

To illustrate, Dr. Hyler and co-authors present six steroetypes moviemakers usually settle on their portrayal of mental patients: the rebelious free spirit (Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Next)," the "homicidal manic (Anthony Perkins in Psycho)," the "seductress (Jean Seberg in Lilith)," the "iconoclast (Sean Connery in A Fine Madness)," the "parasite (the group theraphy patients in Lovesick)," and the "zoo specimen (Woody Allen in Zelig)." The authors hold that in narrowing their scope to these characters, filmmakers may occasionally portray interesting or sympathetic characters, but they exploit people who really suffer with mental illnesses. A film might, for example, show a patient who is admirable in his defiance of stuffy conventions, but only rarely will it show the despair beneath the bravado.

"It might perhaps be tempting to write off all these depictions of mentally ill people as harmless Hollywood distortions," Dr. Hyler says. "But as Madison Avenue executives thoroughly understand, media images insidiously work their way into the collective unconscious of society and influence the way we all regard the world around us."
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Jan 1, 1992
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