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How ‘It's Kind of a Funny Story’ Showed A Different Perspective on Psychiatric Hospitalization

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I’ve been hospitalized and admitted to a psychiatric ward twice, and have visited the emergency room for overnight stays for mental health issues almost a dozen more times. Those stays in an inpatient psych ward were traumatizing to say the least, and I still have flashbacks and nightmares about it. That being said, I found it so refreshing to see a fairly accurate portrayal of parts of my experience in “It’s Kind of A Funny Story,” a movie based on a book of the same title by Ned Vizzini.

For a long time after my first hospitalization, this movie was my favorite movie. I would try to get all my friends to watch it with me because I wanted them to understand a little bit of what it was like. Many portrayals of psychiatric health care facilities in movies are scary and overexaggerated and contribute to the stigma surrounding people who require hospitalization for their mental illness. The storylines are often very traumatic, sad, or used as settings for horror movies. “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” was different; it told a story that was, well, kind of funny. It didn’t overexaggerate things and showed how mundane hospital life can be — from the decor to the food. It helped normalize the experience, and I think that’s why I was so drawn to it. It was comforting to know that I wasn’t the only one with this kind of experience.

At the time, I didn’t know anyone who had been hospitalized for their mental health, and I felt very alone. My friends in the outside world didn’t understand what I was going through, and I felt like my situation was something that was whispered about in hushed tones. I didn’t feel like anyone “got it.” On the flip side, I felt really alone in the hospital as well — just like the main character, Craig, feels at the beginning. At one point, he even goes back to the doctors and says he doesn’t think he belongs there and should go home. Both Craig and I felt like we didn’t fit in — we were both privileged, focused on school, got good grades, came from decent homes, and had good friends. We didn’t have these big, traumatic reasons to be depressed, and felt like our experiences weren’t “bad enough”  to justify us being there. The other patients in the movie, just like the other patients I was hospitalized with, seemed to have it so much worse — many didn’t have families or visitors, some were homeless or jobless because of their conditions, and others seemed to be having a really tough time coping with symptoms or side effects of medication.

Over the course of the movie, you see Craig decide to finally give in to the experience, and participate in the group therapy programs, art therapy, and even make friends with some of the people in his unit. I ended up doing the same — trying to really commit to all the parts of the process to get better.

What I also loved about the way that “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” portrayed the hospital experience, was how they included little details that really add to the authenticity of the film. Moments like when Craig can’t really eat his meal (he struggles with stress vomiting, something I also happen to have issues with on a regular basis), the other patients tell him if he eats he will get points, and therefore privileges. Privileges can include anything from getting your phone to getting your clothes back, to getting “passes” to go outside for a meal or a coffee. When Craig goes to the hospital and expresses he’s feeling suicidal, the nurse is very nonchalant and asks him to fill out a form — this was also similar to my experience of spending all night waiting to be seen. Craig really has to advocate for himself when a doctor sees him finally and says that the people they usually admit are “very, very sick” and doesn’t think Craig fits the bill. Even the name of the unit — Craig was in “3 North,” I was in “2 East” and “West 1.” The staff takes away Craig’s regular shoes and gives him scrubs and socks. I laughed at that part because I really appreciated the commitment to showing even the littlest realities. (The grippy socks they give you at the hospital to replace your shoes are called Pillow Paws, and I loved them.)

But what I really loved the most about this movie is how they made all the characters and patients human. They didn’t turn people’s conditions into some kind of caricature or dramatized version for cinematic effect. People’s tragedies weren’t used for entertainment, and each storyline felt so authentic. I appreciated how the perspectives shown in the movie didn’t make people with mental illness seem scary or dangerous and leaned more into their humanity.

It’s not often that you see a normalized, destigmatized, and dramedy version of psychiatric experiences, and I’m grateful that this type of narrative exists to counteract some of the scary and inaccurate portrayals of an experience that so many of us go through. Seeing this perspective made me feel less alone in an experience that is inherently isolating and lonely, and I felt like a huge weight was lifted. The little, accurate details felt like inside jokes that only a select few of us were in on. It was almost like this movie gave me the community and understanding that I was so desperately missing in my experience. The book is even better than the movie, and I’d highly recommend it to anyone who ever felt alone in their experiences, or anyone who wants to understand a more accurate portrayal of what some of these experiences are like.

Image via YouTube

Originally published: November 2, 2021
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