Mental illness through the eyes of…Hollywood

by Josh Okun, NARSAD Manager of Web Services

Last week I watched a pretty intense episode of one of my favorite television shows, “House” (Fox, Mon. 8pm/7pm Central). A woman, probably in her late 20s or early 30s was admitted to the hospital suffering from multiple symptoms including stomach pain and vomiting. As the episode progressed it became evident that she was trying to hide something – she was using a fake identity and constantly lying to the doctors (and even her husband). Then, she began hallucinating, a seemingly unrelated symptom. It isn’t until the last 5 minutes of the show that we realize the patient has schizophrenia.

Long story short, her initial stomach problems were caused by the medication she was taking for schizophrenia. Once admitted to the hospital, she was no longer taking that medication (because no one knew she had schizophrenia) and the hallucinations began.

As a long-time viewer of the popular medical drama, I can’t recall one episode that dealt with mental illness. However, being that this is the first season of the show (season 7) I’ve watched since I began working at NARSAD, my memory could be a bit biased. As I write this post, I’m trying to think of other TV shows and movies that have dealt with mental illness and not much comes to mind. A quick Google search helps jog my memory as the first link brings me to a long list of movies that have discussed mental illness (295 to be exact). Some of these include “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” (2010), “A Beautiful Mind” (2001), “Donnie Darko” (2001), “Girl, Interrupted” (1999) and “Images” (1972). Some of the TV shows that explore mental illness in one way or another included on a different list include “Friday Night Lights”, “Law and Order”, and of course, numerous episodes of everyone’s favorite guilty pleasure, MTV’s “True Life”.

I guess the point of this blog post is to get you thinking:

  • Is it clear in our society that mental illness affects 1 in 4 American Adults (National Institute of Mental Health)?
  • Does the media/Hollywood portray mental illness accurately?

The facts are out there, the people are out there. It is important for everyone to realize that mental illness is the leading cause of disability in the US and Canada (World Health Organization) and that mental health disorders such as bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, PTSD, autism, and ADHD affect more than 65 million Americans (National Institute of Mental Health).

If you have any thoughts or feedback, we’d love to hear about it. Feel free to leave comments here, or visit the NARSAD Facebook page at

Watch a preview of the episode:


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