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Shutter Island and Bringing an End to #Mentalhealthstigma - Chronically Whole

Shutter Island and Bringing an End to #Mentalhealthstigma

April 5, 2016 | Posted in: Anxiety, Mental Illness

Full Disclosure: If you don’t like spoilers, you probably shouldn’t read this blog.

Am I the only one who desperately fears being told I’m “crazy”? Am I the only one who spills my guts to a friend and then follows up with, “Am I crazy?”

Have you ever noticed how many horror movies or haunted houses take place in mental institutions?

My question is: Are we really that afraid of what the mind can do or are we more afraid of the label and treatment that come with being “crazy”?


Over the weekend, my husband and I watched the movie Shutter Island. (Impending spoilers) Now, I have a degree in psychology so I am familiar with how we’ve viewed mental illness over the years, how we’ve locked away the disabled and mentally ill and abused them. But without fail, every time I see it represented, I feel as though an invisible hand is reaching in and ripping my heart right from my chest.

So perhaps you know the movie is a masterfully made coin, able to be flipped on either side and fully seen and supported from two entirely different and opposing viewpoints. If you flip the coin to one side, the main character is a federal marshal, sent to Shutter Island to investigate the escape of a prisoner. During his investigation, he discovers grave abuses occurring on the island and is henceforth convinced of his own insanity and lobotomized. Flipping the coin the other way, the main character is actually a resident of the island over the course of his entire “investigation,” involved in a doctor-led role play in the hopes of bringing him to a more lucid state. This role play serves as a last ditch effort to get our main character to face the reality that his wife, who suffered from mental illness, set fire to their apartment while trying to kill herself and later drowned all three of her children. The main character must also come to terms with the fact he shot his wife after she begged to be “set free.” However you see the movie, the result is the same—the main character is heading off to face lobotomy.

Throughout the movie, we see an egregious inability to well-support the mentally ill. Patients in one ward are kept naked in a dark, dank cell, deemed a danger to others. And then there’s the obvious issue of lobotomy—essentially taking away the patient’s ability to feel in an effort to make them more docile.



Who would want to go there!?! No one. And what services were available to this man when he began to see suicidal tendencies in his wife? No loving husband would want to send his wife to such a place!


But I also wonder about those who battle mental illness today. Is there not a stigma? Do those who battle depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia not get labeled as crazy and made to feel as though they are damaged? Are they not treated as though they just don’t have enough faith, aren’t strong enough, shouldn’t rely on meds, must somehow be “less than?”


I mean, if tomorrow you were diagnosed with a painful disease or broke your leg, you might think nothing about taking pain medication while you healed. You might realize it could even be wise to let your body use it’s resources to heal instead of fighting pain. Why, then, are we so worried when others use medication while their emotions heal? And if you had diabetes and you thought nothing of taking insulin as needed to regulate your blood sugar, why then do we think less of those who take medication to regulate serotonin?

Why is our situation always, somehow, different? Why are we always, somehow, better?


What if we shifted our focus to, somehow, helping? What if we just supported?


I am thankful that in 2016, most who battle mental illness don’t have to fear lobotomy or a trip to Shutter Island. But many do have to face a very real stigma, which only serves to further isolate them and impede their healing. Can this be the year we bring an end to #mentalhealthstigma? Can this be the year we cheer others on instead of calling them names like “crazy”?


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  1. Caitlin
    April 6, 2016

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    I love this movie and also have bipolar disorder, so this was a great read for me. I agree: the stigma is real and it isn’t pretty. It’s obviously improved, but there’s a definite feeling of ostracism and/or disbelief when I talk about it. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Melanie Pickett
    April 6, 2016

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    I saw this movie a few years ago and it was really interesting and twisty. There is still sadly a stigma, I believe. Even folks without mental illness seeking therapy with a counselor for marital issues, trauma, etc., still seems to hold a bit of stigma. People are, like you said, afraid of being viewed as “crazy.” But nobody hides out and is fearful someone will discover they’ve been to the medical doctor and will view them as “diabetic.” Keep fighting for change, friend! ❤️

    • Stacey Philpot
      April 18, 2016

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      Yes! You speak the truth. I will never understand why instead of celebrating the bravery and willingness to do the work of folks who go to counseling, we often treat them as “damaged goods.”

  3. Ruby Ring
    April 6, 2016

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    Thank you! I have Bipolar and I find that the most prejudice I face is often from religious people.

    • Stacey Philpot
      April 18, 2016

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      I think sometimes we people of faith fail to realize there is a practical side to everything. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been hurt by the people who should be loving you best.

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