Behavioral Health Problems Portrayed in Film

Posted by Austin Swim on Dec 19, 2014 4:45:35 PM

As a culture we are entertained by  stories about real people.  No matter if it's about the unsung hero or the stereotypical drug addict recluse, the movie industry doesn’t play favorites. In fact, it remains to be seen if the film industry is even trying to help you distinguish the difference between the two. In one study conducted by The Royal Society of Medicine, the facts show the existence of sex and drugs are most often shown in a positive light across the top 200 movies in the past 20 years. So what does this mean and how does it affect behavioral health across the board?

The Prevalence of Sex and Drugs in Popular Movies


Over the 200 movies analyzed nearly 75% of them had a ill-advised behavioral defined in the study as: Unprotected sex, use of Cannabis, non-injected illicit drug use, smoking, or alcohol intoxication. Out of all instances of illicit drug use ( Cannabis and Non-Injected Drug use) there were 0 depictions as negative behavior but an accumulation of 24 positive depictions. The remaining 26 instances considered neutral in the study were neither positive or negative.

Movies with Cannabis(8%) and other non-injected illicit drugs (7%)

Tabacco (68%)

Alcohol Intoxication (32%)

In movies with these themes the majority of them were shown positively without any depictions of consequences

2005, The Royal Society of Medicine

 Gunasekera, Chapman, Campel

It's clear that our society is bombarded by media featuring unsafe practices of drugs and alcohol. However, entertaining and successful as it may be at the box office, it can be detrimental to our behavioral health in general. Let's explore.

 Media Affects Behavioral Health Attitudes

Another study by the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center released results of the ability of a movie to change the acts of people who see it. In the social experiment, of the 20,000 people that watched the movie Food , many had drastically changed their eating habits. Research center professor Director Mark Kaplan stated that "entertainment affects audiences",  validating the study.

The study provides evidence that  glorification of behavioral health addiction may be detrimental to the general public.

People Rethink Their Lives When Introduced to Real Consequences

Movies may have more power to project attitudes than we think. An article by The Ohio State University shows that people have a tendency to feel better about their current situations after watching a tragic movie. In the short-term, study participants had a tendency to appreciate their close relationships more so than they did before they saw the tragic movie. So if watching tragedy on-screen leads us to value our lives and loved-ones more, what effect could watching characters enjoy illicit drugs without consequences have?

It would be an interesting further discussion to see if putting a real face on behavioral health choices makes us rethink the behavioral health problem as a culture.


What are your thoughts?