The Misrepresentation of Care Provision for Mental Illness and Learning Disability in Cinema

By: Charlie Hunt  

This paper highlights problematic issues in the cinematic portrayal of care provision for adults with mental conditions. Films have a responsibility to represent care provision accurately, as they shape the public’s perception on how affected individuals are cared for. Despite this, few studies have explored in depth the problematic aspects of the representation of care provision in film, or clarified the misconceptions that future films need to address to allay anxieties within audiences. Existing studies focus on the portrayal of care for mental illness rather than for learning disability: this gap in knowledge is addressed by this study, with analysis enriched by the researcher’s autoethnographic reflection on experiences as a carer, and through having a brother with learning disabilities who lives in long-term care provision. Four themes emerged from textual analysis of two prominent films about mental illness, and two about learning disability. Firstly, the latter accurately suggest carers celebrate the uniqueness of service-users, whereas in the former, carers obsessively normalise their patients using ‘miracle cures’. Secondly, the films all overstate the strictly regimented ethos of care settings, although show occasional flexibility for those with learning disability. Thirdly, carers for mental illness seem driven by power cravings: although carers for learning disability are portrayed as more benign, physical restraint is misrepresented as commonplace. Finally, both films about mental illness emphasise that love wins through over treatments, whereas the films about learning disability promote a different concerning misconception: that carers doubt their service-users can benefit from loving relationships, with dehumanising consequences.

Arts and Diversity, Arts and Identities, Cinema, Arts and Disability
The Arts in Social, Political, and Community Life
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Mr. Charlie Hunt

University of East Anglia

I commence my final year of study in September 2019, with a view to progressing to postgraduate study in Media and Cultural Politics. I currently work part-time for The Hamlet Charity, as a support worker for children with learning disabilities. I am also the Programming Coordinator for Short Films at the Norwich Film Festival. For my undergraduate coursework, I have completed textual analysis research on the representation of care provision for mental disability in film, gender in the TV show 'The Inbetweeners', and human rights in Holocaust films. I have also undertaken primary research. I carried out an observational case study in a special school of children with autistic spectrum disorders, and analysed data using a theoretical model to critique the representation of autism in film.