Mental Illness Stigma in the Movies

Blue Jasmine, written and directed by Woody Allen, perpetuates the stigma of the stereotypical crazy person. IMDB classifies it as a Comedy, although my friends (neither of them have a mental illness) and I thought it was extremely depressing. To be fair, there are quite a few rave reviews, but I found nothing funny or enjoyable about it all. Under the movie description, it says “A New York socialite, deeply troubled and in denial….” Jasmine is quite a bit more than “troubled.” (Spoiler alert to the end of the paragraph) Her mental decline is rapid, and flashbacks show that she seemed to have some sort of mental illness for quite some time. She even makes light of ECT by calling it “Edison’s Therapy.” She lies to get what she wants, but it ends up backfiring on her. The movie ends with her sitting on a park bench, babbling to herself (it’s mentioned earlier that she was once found talking to herself in public). Jasmine sits next to a woman who looks at her uncomfortably and gets up and walks away.

I suppose I can see how some might see this as a comedy, but from the point of view of a person with bipolar disorder, all I saw was a very disturbing stigmatization of mental illness. If I would have known more about this movie, I would have saved my money. I have enough of this in my own life, and I prefer to be entertained at the movies, not reminded of my own reality (nor have it thrown in my face in the guise of a comedy).

What do you think of mental illness in the movies? Have you seen this movie and have a different opinion? I’d love to read what you have to say about this.

4 thoughts on “Mental Illness Stigma in the Movies

  1. I hate seeing mental illness, but mostly Bipolar on TV. Sometimes it's accurately portrayed… they are getting better at that I think. But I just can't bear to watch it. It makes me feel so uncomfortable. I feel like I might as well be sitting naked in front of the screen. I feel so embarrassed because i know that I can relate to all of the good and the gory but in the end it affects so many relationships. To be reminded of that is almost hurtful. Maybe it's good to expose people who aren't familiar with it. I just cringe though.

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  2. Thanks Anon, it's a rant-worthy subject. If you'd ever like to write a guest post, let me know. Just today I saw a “joke” about someone relating schizophrenia to dual personalities. This ignorance of some people is so overwhelming.

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  3. How the media presents mental illness is extremely frustrating for me, too. In recent years it seems to have gotten a little harsher. I have been dealing with mental illness for over 35 years when my brother was institutionalized at 14 for a year. I barely escaped the system when I was 19 and was committed myself. I have worked long and hard to manage myself and endure politely the mainstream's reaction to people who have been diagnosed. I learned early not to flinch when my co-workers go on and on about how so and so “needs to take their meds” because they are responding in a “crazy” way. I have never given hope that society will get past the appearances of these diagnosis and start understanding the true causes, beyond the overly simplistic medical model of chemical imbalance.

    Well, I could truly rant and rave but 🙂 I am at work.

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