Cinema, is not merely a tool for entertainment. Ever since its dawn, cinema has become a means for social transformation. One of the many causes cinema depicts is mental illness.

However, it’s not necessarily always the truth of mental illness. Dramatic and stigmatizing depictions often spread a negative aspect of psychiatric disorders and the patients who are suffering from them.

Though it brings out a few positive and inspiring stories. Here, we are going to describe the dual impact of cinema and media on psychiatry.

Unbiased Cinema

Though cinema remains an apparatus for social change and radicalness, it’s not completely unbiased. In the time we live in now, cinema concerned with the medical field is basically a two-sided weapon.

On one hand cinema can help improve awareness of disorders and thus encourage help-seeking behavior by the thoughtful depiction of certain psychiatric disorders in cinema.

On the other hand, we have the stereotypical portrayal of mental disorders, the violent portrayal of psychotic patients, eventually demonizing them as psycho-killers.

Tthe exaggeration in the presentation of a mental breakdown like suicide, and the unnecessary criminalization of psychiatric treatment that have made the difficult situation worse.

Drugs, Violence and Violation of Boundaries

When it comes to portraying the nature of treatment, things are not so promising either. Boundaries violation, sex, drugs and violence are all somehow employed in the art process.

In real life, there is rarely any emotional involvement between a therapist and one of his patients.

The lines between personality disorders, psychopaths and psychosis are always distorted. People can’t tell the difference anymore. Suicide has been commercialized so much so, it lost its painful side.

It’s only implemented as an attraction element to movies and TV shows, now. Case in point, Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why.

The Good Side..

Despite all the negativity, this cloud has a silver lining, too. For example, A Beautiful Mind was an outstanding movie in terms of portraying the psychopathology of schizophrenia so beautifully in a legendary mathematician, named John Nash.

Probably there is not a single movie which depicted the gradual development of Alzheimer’s disease and the social aspect to it better than Still Alice. And the list goes on.

Melancholia, painted a detailed picture of manic depression in the life of a new bride, and how mental health has a way of disguising the patient’s disturbed behavior and gets them to act normal within their circles.

Movies like Girl, Interrupted and The Shawshank Redemption highlighted the importance of resilience when facing trauma and distress. Both movies were also written and supervised by actual psychiatrists or psychologists in order to show a good depth of knowledge to the discussed diseases.

Egyptian Cinema

On a more local level, Egyptian cinema has been attempting to tackle the mental health issue ever since the seventies. Unfortunately, we can’t claim we are anywhere near  foreign cinema in that domain. But despite this fact, we do have some pretty decent efforts. So, let’s track both back.

Bear El Herman 1969, starring Soad Hosny, may be one of the earliest movies to present the disease of Schizophrenia in Egyptian cinema. Although it didn’t catch it quite right, portraying the character to have a dual personality which is far-fetched.

On a brighter note though, and jumping forward, we have Ahmed Helmy’s Asef Ael Ezaag 2008.

Although it wouldn’t normally strike you as an in depth movie about mental illness, it did a great job at catching the essence of the delusional and distorted nature of a guy suffering from trauma and unaware of his own schizophrenic case.

The movie subtly managed to highlight all the aspects of the disease; from dissociation and allusions to denial and remorse.

As seen, the depiction of psychiatry in movies is tricky. It is always wise to conduct proper research before jumping to conclusions about a particular illness and presenting it according to one’s own preconceived notions.