The Perks of Watching a Movie: How the Portrayal of Anxiety and Depression in Film Affects Teenagers’ Perception of Anxiety and Depressive Disorders

(1) Crooms Academy of Information Technology, Sanford, Florida

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In film, anxiety and depressive disorders are often depicted inaccurately. When viewers are exposed to these inaccurate portrayals, they collect misinformation about the disorders, as well as people who live with them, leading to stigma. This study used a mixed-method descriptive approach to analyze 16 teenagers’ attitudes towards people with anxiety and depression. We then compared these results to their attitudes towards the character Charlie in the coming-of-age film The Perks of Being a Wallflower, who has clinical anxiety and depression. Participants were given an initial survey, shown clips from the film, then given a reflection survey. They were also asked their thoughts on the depiction of anxiety and depression in film as a whole and its implications. We hypothesized that participants would develop a more negative opinion of people with anxiety and depressive disorders after watching the film as compared to their initial survey because characters with mental illnesses are most often depicted as violent and unable to lead a normal life. The results did not support our hypothesis. We found that participants used more adjectives with positive connotations to describe the character Charlie than they had used to describe someone with anxiety and depression. Additionally, while participants understood how these portrayals create stigma, they did not attribute this to misinformation. These results can be used to help both the film industry and the movie-going public better understand the effects of inaccurate storytelling and the extent to which it informs public perception.

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movies anxiety depression teenagers stigma storytelling