In 'Silver Linings Playbook,' Hollywood Finally Gets Mental Illness
Among the films nominated for Academy Awards this year is the quirky picture Silver Linings Playbook. It's quirky because it defies traditional categories of film. Part romantic comedy, part intense drama, the movie also provides a bit of education on a topic Hollywood historically covers disastrously: mental illness.
The movie follows Pat, played by best actor nominee Bradley Cooper, as he tries to rebuild his life after eight months in a psychiatric hospital. Overall, the treatment of mental illness is surprisingly good. Especially when compared to the usual fare, it's quite sensitive and accurate. If you've seen the film, place it against the visual backdrop of movies like One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Fatal Attraction, Misery, and Psycho. Silver Linings Playbook represents a dramatic improvement, portraying the characters who struggle with mental health as human, sympathetic, and in most ways ordinary—and with a lot of living left in the wake of diagnosis and hospitalization.
Although it's not perfect, Silver Linings Playbook does offer helpful lessons for anyone wanting to better understand mental illness and how it affects people in the real world:
Mental illness is common.
Several characters in this movie have mental health "issues." This might seem like Hollywood overkill, but it's fairly realistic, especially since much mental illness has hereditary components and tends to run in families. Most people don't realize just how common mental illness is: In any given year, just over 25 percent of American adults experience a diagnosable mental disorder. In addition, one in five children experiences a seriously debilitating mental disorder. Next Sunday, statistics say, one of the four people sitting next to you at church will be suffering with a mental illness.
Stigma is everywhere.
Unfortunately, although mental illness is highly treatable, less than 33 percent of people with such illness actually receive treatment. This is partially due to the difficulty many have in obtaining services, but it's also due to stigma. In the movie, Pat runs into this in several places: His brother and his friend didn't visit him in the hospital; his brother's friends mock him at a football game; and the teenager across the street keeps showing up at his house with a camera, mocking him but claiming he wants to interview him for a school project about mental illness. Pat even wrestles with his own stigma, especially when deciding whether to take the medications he needs. In our society, mental illness is ridiculed, dismissed, feared, marginalized, and ignored. It takes great courage for people to admit they need help and healing, let alone to go public with their efforts to manage an ongoing disorder.