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Psychiatry in contemporary Irish cinema: a qualitative study

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 June 2014

Brendan D Kelly*
Department of Adult Psychiatry, University College Dublin, Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, 62/63 Eccles Street, Dublin 7, Ireland


Objective: Media portrayals of mental illness and psychiatry have a considerable impact on public perceptions of mental health issues. This paper aims to focus on portrayals of psychiatry and psychiatrists in four contemporary Irish feature films in order to make wider points on this theme.

Methods: Contemporary Irish feature-films that made substantial reference to psychiatry, psychiatrists or mental health in Ireland were identified though electronic searches and consultation with the Film Institute of Ireland. Selected films were viewed. Electronic searches were performed in the medical and film literatures, with broad search terms related to film, psychiatry, psychiatrists or mental health in Ireland. Additional books and papers were identified by tracking back through references and consulting with colleagues.

Results: The portrayal of psychiatrists in film is closely related to the development of both twentieth century psychiatry and twentieth century cinema. In common with recent European films, certain recent Irish films have tended to show psychiatrists as sympathetic, humane individuals (with some notable exceptions). While there have been a number of portrayals of dissocial personally disorder and various states of chronic alienation in recent Irish film, there have been fewer portrayals of psychosis or learning disability. Recent Irish films emphasise the role of alcohol in causing and perpetuating psychological distress. They generally provide unflinching portrayals of the effects of psychological distress and alienation, suicide and substance abuse at individual, family and community levels; nonetheless, there is still a regrettable tendency for films to associate mental illness with dissocial behaviour.

Conclusions: The portrayal of mental health issues in film presents both challenges and opportunities to film-makers, mental health service-users and general audiences alike. It is to be hoped that the recent trend towards realistic explorations of mental health issues in many European films continues into the future. Increased research in this area would help clarify the role of cinema in shaping public understandings of mental illness, and may also help identify additional ways of addressing stigma in the future.

Brief Reports
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2006

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