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Do Films About Mentally Disturbed Characters Promote Ineffective Coping in Vulnerable Youth?



Suicidal youth tend to doubt the effectiveness of professional mental health treatment. This study examined whether exposure to films about suicidal and mentally disturbed persons supports this lack of belief. Exposure to three popular films featuring suicides or the mentally ill was compared to films that featured a heroic suicide unrelated to mental illness as well as to films with violent and comedic content in a nationally representative survey of youth ages 14–22 (N=900). Exposure to films about mental disturbance among “vulnerable” respondents who had experienced recent depressive and suicidal symptoms (24% of sample) was compared to those without these symptoms. Increasing exposure to films with mentally disturbed characters was related to belief in the treatment inefficacy of mental disorders. The findings suggest that exposure to fictional depictions of characters failing to get help for mental disorders may have long-term effects on depressed and suicidal youth.