REAL TALK- Mental Illness As a Horror Trope
Ciao lovelies! Today’s post is a REAL TALK post, meaning it may not be suitable for younger readers due to subject matter. This REAL TALK is about something that’s been bugging me for a long time: How movies exploit individuals with mental illness as horror elements and the industry makes money off alienating a subsection of America.
For those who don’t know, a new M. Night Shamalan film recently came out titled “Split”. The trailer I first saw showed a man kidnapping a group of girls, them seeing someone, calling out for help, and revealing that the “woman” they saw was actually their captor. Here, watch this trailer for yourself:
Now, the reason I found fault with this, was that the movie marketing absolutely relied on audiences finding the idea of someone with DID terrifying.
For those unaware, DID stands for Dissociative Identity Disorder, which is the new way the DSM5 classes the disorder previously known as “multiple personality disorder.” Individuals with DID are said to have “fragmented” personalities, often stemming from childhood trauma.
(source- https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Dissociative-Disorders ) While this disorder is not as prevalent as things like depression or anxiety, DID suffers still make up a significant subset of the American populace, “1.5% of the population of American adults” had DID in a 2013 study. (Source- http://did-research.org/did/basics/prevalence.html ) This may not seem like a lot, but the American population in 2013 was 316.5 million individuals (this can be googled quite simply), and doing the math, that means that 4,866,300 people suffered from DID. Four MILLION PEOPLE. Definitely a significant subsection of America.
While the movie Split has been said to treat DID respectfully, its marketing campaign created a different kind of problem in the issue of media treatment of mental illness. I’m sure you’ve all seen the memes popping up everywhere regarding DID as some kind of convenient catch-all for problems, here are some examples:
(For those who didn't watch the trailer, the man in the memes is the main "villain" and DID sufferer in "Split")
Mental illness, especially DID, should NOT be treated as a joke or glamorized. People are actually suffering. DID is not a joke, or trend, or anything funny at all. It’s a nightmare for those who suffer from it. Here is an interview with someone with DID:
As you can see, it’s hell on earth for these people. They have chunks of time missing, and sometimes worry what their alters have done. The reactions to this movie and the fact that people are treating DID like a joke is dangerous. The dangers of glamorizing or making light of mental illness are personal; it makes it difficult for mental illness sufferers to seek help, feel comfortable talking about their experiences, and just feel comfortable in their own skin.
I’m not saying that mental illness can never be included in a film or other media, but it should be done RESPECTFULLY, ACCURATELY, and THE ILLNESS SHOULD NOT BE THE MAIN “SCARE FACTOR.” The biggest issue with Split was how the marketing campaign focused on the fact that “Ooooh multiple personalities!! So spooky! What a dangerous individual just because they’re mentally ill!”. The trailers all highlighted the DID as the scariest thing, implying that his disorder made him violent.
I’m sure that you can see why this is a problem to real life DID sufferers (the 4 MILLION people we discussed earlier). The media portrays them as violent, uncontrollable maniacs, and they aren’t.
My main point is that mental illness needs to stop being used as a horror element, as the portrayal is harmful to sufferers in real life and that it creates an atmosphere of humor or glamorization around these illnesses which can negatively affect sufferers and their families.
What do you think about this controversial topic? Do you think that there’s nothing wrong with media portrayal of mental illness? Do you know of any shows, movies, etc that you feel portrays mental illness well? Why not start a respectful dialogue in the comments? I’d love to read your thoughts on the matter!