Our Changing Perception of Mental Health
by guest writer MATTHEW BROWN
In the movie Psycho, a woman named Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is on the run after stealing a large sum of money; during her escape, she stops along a lonesome highway at a completely vacant inn--"The Bates Motel"--where she meets the proprietor, a man named Norman Bates. Little does she know, he--SPOILER ALERT!!!--will be that last man she ever meets.
In the movie, Norman Bates is a man suffering from Dissociated Identity Disorder (or DID), yet throughout the film, Norman is shown as a normal and peaceful person, but, as the film progresses, Hitchcock develops Norman's character to play on this disorder because it is easy to make a villain out of something the audience doesn't understand.
The question can, and has been asked: how is mental health viewed today, and how has Hollywood changed the perception of people toward those with mental illness? Those with mental illness are typically shunned by society simply because most people don’t understand the underlying issues that the mentally challenged may have. It’s a matter of education. And contemporary audiences just tend to be more educated in matters of mental health than the average audience in the 1960s--which makes Psycho a little hard to accept,despite how good a movie it is.
Unfortunately, Hollywood tends to buy into misconceptions of mental health when constructing its movie villains and plays off the uneducated public. They play on our fears and so can be misleading in their depiction of the mentally ill.
A common belief is that mental illness is the cause for many problems in the world. Those that are ill see society reject them and thus they are not seeking the care and treatment that they need in order to become better. However, many people living with mental illness cannot see an issue with themselves. They appear normal to themselves, and everyone else is ‘crazy’. For these people, living with a mental illness such as depression or anxiety can be the norm and realistic. If they are raised feeling as if they are a regular person in society, they will live their lives going undiagnosed. This may be evident as seen in the movie because Norman Bates, the man with (at least) two faces has lived his life in what seems like isolation, living miles away from humanity. To him, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong, nor is there anyone around to help diagnose and cure the issue.
Those with mental illness have to face many tough criticisms, and even more, they have to live with a feeling as though they are lessened by their shortcoming illness. The misconception that many have to deal with today is the feeling of inequality. Those with less serious mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety have the feeling that they are less than those without.
Does the movie accurately depict this dissociated identity disorder? Yes, it does. However, the question can also be asked, do movies have a moral obligation to depict things in the light of reality? Do they have the moral obligation to depict them in a better light given the overall societal impact of negativity that real-life problems entails?
I would argue that the Hollywood in general, and Psycho in particular, played a huge role in directing public attitudes about mental illness. But Hollywood's role is not to inform the general masses about certain moral and ethical issues, but to entertain, and to make money, and it is my opinion that they would twist and distort any truth in order to make a profit from it.
Because Hollywood almost never portrays reality in an accurate fashion, it is up to individual viewers to seek out and act on accurate information rather than to take what is given in the cinema as truth.
I would still recommend this movie to almost anyone who enjoys a great horror-mystery. Though this film does not accurately portray mental illness as it is clinically understood today, this movie does what it is intended to do: sell tickets and entertain audiences. But I also think it is problematic for the movie industry to misrepresent the mentally ill. The movie may be entertaining, but it is still just an entertaining lie.