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People with mental illness are not villains

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jack heath ceoI’m frustrated. Yet again, we’ve seen another film released that reinforces the notion we need to fear people living with complex mental illness.

The latest in a long line of cinema offenders (remember Psycho?) to paint people living with mental illness as violent villains is new cinema release Split.

The Hollywood horror film stars James McAvoy as a man living with dissociative identity disorder, formerly known as multiple personality disorder, who kidnaps three young girls.

The film trivialises complex mental illness and reinforces the inaccurate and harmful notion we need to fear people living with complex mental illness, in this case, dissociative identity disorder.


Dissociative identity disorder involves the coexistence of two or more personality states within the same person and many mental health professionals believe the complex mental illness is associated with overwhelming experiences during childhood such as traumatic events or abuse.

Put yourself in the shoes of someone living with dissociative identity disorder.

Imagine having already faced childhood trauma and then a movie like this comes along to make life even harder.

SANE Australia’s StigmaWatch program has received several complaints about the upcoming release of Split since Universal began its advertising campaign for the film.

We know stigma is a key factor in preventing people from seeking treatment for mental illness and this can have devastating consequences, including an increased risk of suicide.

I have personally heard from people living with dissociative identity disorder who are deeply offended by Split but haven’t felt confident enough to speak out against the film as they’ve kept their diagnosis private, including from family and friends.

The COAG Health Ministers will meet in April to consider the draft Fifth National Mental Health Plan which includes stigma reduction around complex mental illness is a priority area of action.

We need to see Australia make a strong commitment to reducing the stigma surrounding complex mental illness by committing to a multi-year, multifaceted stigma reduction program.

It’s time to end these stigmatising portrayals of mental illness and violence.

Have you seen mental illness stigma in the media? Report it to SANE Australia’s StigmaWatch program.

Last updated: 29 March 2018