Mental Health Conditions in Film & TV: Portrayals That Dehumanize and Trivialize Characters

Mental Health Conditions in Film & TV: Portrayals That Dehumanize and Trivialize Characters

Popular film and television series rarely include characters with mental health issues, and the few that do often portray characters with such issues in ways that trivialize and dehumanize them, a report from the University of Southern California's USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds. Based on a study of a hundred top-grossing films and fifty television series, the report, Mental Health Conditions in Film & TV: Portrayals that Dehumanize and Trivialize Characters (4 pages, PDF), found that 1.7 percent of the movie characters and 7 percent of the TV characters experienced mood disorders, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), addiction, suicide, autism spectrum disorders, or other mental health issue — compared with 18.9 percent of the U.S. population and 20 percent of teens. Conducted in partnership with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and funded by the David and Lura Lovell Foundation, the study found that 52 percent of the films and 26 percent of the television series examined included no characters experiencing mental health issues, while 31 percent and 26 percent included only one. According to the report, 47 percent of movie characters and 38 percent of TV characters with mental health conditions were portrayed disparagingly — including being subjected to verbal or nonverbal rejection and/or demeaning comments such as "crazy," "freak," "unstable," "idiot," and "psychotic" — while 22 percent (movie) and 50 percent (TV) were portrayed humorously. The report also found that addiction was the condition most often portrayed, followed by anxiety/PTSD; that 46 percent of film characters with mental health issues committed an act of violence; and that the productions included no Latinx or Native American/Alaska Native characters with mental health issues despite the fact that 16.3 percent of Latinx and 28.3 percent Native Americans/Alaska Natives experience mental health issues. 

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