Guest post by Hannah Chiarella.
Each year U Bring Change 2 Mind is excited to collaborate with IU Cinema as part of the series Real Lives in Mental Health & Mental Illness. The accurate depiction of mental health and mental illness in film is a powerful tool that can help others better understand mental health issues and in turn reduce stigma.
U Bring Change 2 Mind is the collegiate division of Bring Change 2 Mind, a non-profit founded by actress Glenn Close to combat the stigma surrounding mental health issues. The organization and campus student group is unique in its mission to focus on an aspect of mental health that is often overlooked. The emphasis on stigma works to create an inclusive and accepting climate that can in turn encourage people to get the care they deserve, the accommodations they need and the acceptance that makes us human.
Over 40 million Americans experience some sort of mental health issue each year, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. While it seems statistically impossible for individuals not to have some interaction or experience with a mental health issue, the conversation around mental health remains all but silent.
Unlike many physical disabilities, disclosing a mental illness seems to set one more apart from others. Stigma perpetuates misunderstanding around mental health issues and continues to lead to the objectification of people as dangerous or incompetent. And because of stigma, those with mental health issues feel shame and isolation, preventing many from seeking the help necessary to live healthy and full lives.
The portrayal of mental health issues in film can be an instrument of change that can work against this stigma in multiple ways. Film can become the intersection between starting the conversation and normalizing it. Breaching the topic, in itself, is the first way these films can be incredibly valuable. Just including mental health contests the perception that these problems and struggles are shameful or somehow not “normally” experienced. And accurate depictions of those dealing with mental health issues helps dispel some of the fears and misconceptions perpetuated throughout our society.
Something that makes films unique is their elevated place in popular culture, providing a larger platform to make change. In taking mental health out of sterile and clinical settings and displaying it in a visually powerful and thoughtful way can have a large impact. Furthermore, the way that society celebrates actors and films makes discussion around the topic of mental health seem more acceptable and gives it an established place in our society. Film has the potential to not only portray things accurately but also give this topic a place in mainstream culture.
However, raising awareness and starting the conversation is not the only way these films become extremely valuable. The impact that films can have aligns with the fundamental approach of U Bring Change 2 Mind ― specifically, that “contact” offers one of the most promising avenues to lower levels of prejudice and discrimination. Seeing truthful representations of mental health issues on the big screen is one way of providing the “contact” that helps us to see the realities of mental health and change negative perceptions of them. This change in conventional notions of mental health issues can propagate further change in interactions and diminish the stigma caused by a lack of understanding and not knowing how to react or what to do and say in these situations.
We are so pleased to have such powerful films such as Love & Mercy and Infinitely Polar Bear shown on the IU campus to amplify the mission of U Bring Change to Mind to change preconceived notions of mental health and reduce the levels of stigma across our campus. By doing so, we can truly make IU home to all students no matter the challenges they may face.
Paul Dano and John Cusack portray The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson at different stages in his life in the film Love & Mercy, which will screen at IU Cinema on September 25.
Mark Ruffalo plays a father with bipolar disorder trying to keep his family together with wife Zoe Saldana in Infinitely Polar Bear. The film will be screened on October 3.
Hannah Chiarella is the Program Manager for U Bring Change 2 Mind, the collegiate program by national non-profit Bring Change 2 Mind. Hannah is a 2016 graduate of the University of Notre Dame, majoring in Graphic Design with a focus on how design can generate social change. Her position now is based out of the Sociology Department and she works closely with Distinguished Professor Bernice Pescosolido, striving to change the levels of mental health stigma on campus.