Why Most Documentaries About Mental Health Are Toxic


While most documentaries have a purpose of uncovering and educating people on specific topics, sometimes they can instill a feeling of fear and nervousness in a select audience. This is particularly the case with films such as, “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death” that have been released on the subject of mental health.

It seems that there’s a large debate about whether certain mental health films have a secret agenda, taking away from the mental health issues at hand. For example, people have said that “Psychiatry: An Industry of Death”, is propaganda for Scientology.


The way in which documentaries are pieced together displaying metaphors, reenactments, the narrator’s tone and the music that’s being played in the background all contribute to creating a certain mood and atmosphere. If a director, writer and producer do not understand what it’s like to suffer from the mental illness, they should be very careful about how they educate people on the matter and how they portray it on screen.


sad-girlDocumentary Tone


If the people behind the creation of the documentary don’t fully appreciate or understand the mental health subject they’re covering; it’s usually bad news. Music, narration and analogies should correlate with the ideas being discussed, but in the field of mental health, there should be an element of solution and forgiveness. Without approaching education on mental health with feelings of compassion and wellbeing, we end up sitting through an unpleasant and sometimes harmful experience.


For example, if a viewer watching the program suffers from insecurity and is in a fragile state of mind, they are subject to becoming nervous and fearful of the mental illness. Rather than learning about it from a compassionate and positive perspective, they become more confused and possibly delay treatment and avoid the support they need.


A common statement in the world of self-help is that you get more of what you focus on. Counselors, psychologists and mental health professionals will usually tell you to place your attention on the positives and solutions, rather than to linger on the issues themselves. Through bringing light into the darkness, you learn to find a way out of your suffering. A lot of mental health documentaries, however, simply remain in an area of darkness, without shedding much light on remedies through a sympathetic tone.




One of the most damaging and disrespectful elements of certain documentaries is their tenacity to spread incorrect information. This may be through missing key pieces of information or twisting data and analogies to suit an agenda to make the documentary more enticing and intriguing to a wider audience. Directors and producers should always aim to give the full picture of a mental illness instead of using information to suit their own cause and beliefs.


Most people who are aware of their mental illness through accurate diagnosis understand their condition and what it entails. Therefore, the misinformation in documentaries comes as a surprise that also can be rather aggravating. Sufferers would much prefer a correct set of information to be spread about the illness.


In a world where mental health needs to be more commonly understood and appreciated, the last thing that sufferers and health professionals need is the spreading of misinformation. For this reason, mental health documentaries should be taken with a pinch of salt, as they don’t always portray the feelings and experiences that patients are going through.


Alternative Options


Documentaries should provide a better understanding of mental illnesses and show real life scenarios so that people can see how conditions impact sufferers and caregiver’s lives. One such documentary is “The Devil and Daniel Johnston” released in 2005. Daniel Johnston suffers from bipolar disorder which resulted in him being admitted in and out of hospitals for over 15 years.


Daniel is a great example of turning emotions into art and music, since that’s what he’s been doing his entire life, even during the harder times. The documentary shows the struggles of the sufferer, his family and caregivers. There’s no sugarcoating, it broadcasts real life experiences so that people can get an accurate picture and understanding of how bipolar disorder affects people. The Devil and Daniel Johnston is available to watch via Netflix though you may need to use a proxy to access it in your region.




Overall, it seems that the creators behind mental health documentaries need to put in more time, effort and compassion into the way they research and portray it on the screen. While programs and movies need to be marketed, that area should never take away from the subject its severity and attention to detail, which must always be accurate and shown from a perspective of a solution.


Are there any mental health documentaries that you feel should be avoided? What are your thoughts on this subject? Please leave a comment in the section below.


Author bio: Caroline is an active blogger in the online health community. She likes to help spread an accurate awareness for mental illness so that misinformation can be diminished and more effective solutions for people can be researched.

Written by Cassie

Cassie is a passionate self-employed writer. She enjoys looking for new ways to improve her health and wellness while maintaining a good work/life balance. When she’s not creating new content, Cassie likes spending time with her friends and family, taking part in regular yoga and exercise, and enjoying a nice cup of coffee.

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