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How do movies portray mental health? These researchers are studying new films to find out

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- Movies are some of the most popular forms of entertainment across the world, and film can influence culture, arts and style -- but what about mental health?

Of the more than 3,000 speaking characters in successful major market films last year, only 2% had some kind of mental health condition, according to the findings of a report from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. There were no characters with any mental health concerns in roughly half of all major movies in 2022.

Researchers with USC Annenberg reviewed 300 films just to see how they depict and portray mental health. They do these studies every few years to identify trends and styles.

The college's Inclusion Initiative reviews major films every few years, and looks at both characters and their mental status. The researchers also review how mental health is depicted -- if it's being used for comedic effect, a villain plot device or as a genuine depiction of conditions.

They tell ABC-7 they're concerned about a lack of representation -- and if mental health does appear on screen -- it is often depicted in only comedic or villainous ways.

Common mental health conditions on screen inlcuded PTSD, addiction and mood disorders. The research shows that men and women are almost equally represented with having some mental concerns. Many were white.

Almost 80% of characters with mental health conditions were "disparaged" specifically for their wellness concerns, according to findings of the study.

A fair share were the subject of jokes over their mental health, which is consistent with previous versions of the report. Many characters with mental concerns were depicted as being violent -- a rising trend through the years.

Researchers found that about 40% of mental health characters died in the film -- a majority on screen by violent means. A smaller amount committed suicide.

About a quarter of characters were shown in therapy of some form -- a smaller amount were shown using medication to help with their mental wellness.

These figures are collected and calculated into the Mental Health Media Guide, which aims to help creators make positive decisions about mental health in art. It includes suggestions for accurate and nuanced mental health portrayals.

Avery Martinez is the Be Mindful Reporter for ABC-7, supported in part by Report for America. RFA helps provide reporters for under-covered topics across the country.

Article Topic Follows: Be Mindful

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