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How the Film ‘Lights Out’ Reinforces Negative Stereotypes About Mental Illness

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My wife and I love movies. We go to the cinema at least once a week and watch plenty more at home. As my wife’s anxiety sometimes makes it difficult for her to go out, it’s great to have something she looks forward to every week. Our favorite are horror films.

The movie “Lights Out” looked great, and it seemed to have a particularly scary premise. For those of you who haven’t seen the film, it is about a creature who can only be seen with the lights out. Therefore, we went to the cinema excited about the film.

I looked uneasily at my wife as the protagonist in the story called her mother crazy, and then asked her if she had taken her pills. From that moment on, the film was filled with cringe worthy moments diminishing the reality of mental illness, from the way antidepressants work to the attitude of the mother’s family.

When I got home, I read up about the movie, and it turns out the writers actually planned the movie to be a metaphor of depression. They clearly didn’t do their research. The worst thing about the movie (spoilers coming up), was the ending. The mother kills herself to be rid of the “monster”and save her family, and everyone is happy and relieved. What a message to send to the public about mental illness and to people who are struggling with feelings of worthlessness surrounding their own mental illness.

The actions of the people involved in this film spoke volumes to me about the stigma surrounding mental health and will only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes. If done slightly differently, then it could have actually have had a positive message, much like “The Babadook.” Unfortunately, this was not the case.

While this was an extreme example, it is sadly common to see poor interpretations of mental illness in popular culture, whether in direct use of a mental illness story or in careless use of language. This, unfortunately, greatly diminishes the effects of films and television shows that are written in a positive and caring way.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Screenshot via “Lights Out”

Originally published: November 1, 2016
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