Defense Date


Graduation Date

Fall 2012


Immediate Access

Submission Type


Degree Name



Counselor Education and Supervision (ExCES)


School of Education

Committee Chair

Lisa L Levers

Committee Member

Jered Kolbert

Committee Member

Emma Mosley


Film, Icons, Mental disorder, Mental illness, Stereotypes, Stigma


The following qualitative research study examined visual and thematic depictions of mental disorder in mainstream American film from 1988 to 2010. The research was an extension of an earlier investigation on portrayals of psychological disability in Hollywood movies (Levers, 1988, 2001). The theoretical and historical grounding for the project included Sander Gilman's (1982) scholarship on madness in the pictorial arts, the history and treatment of mental disorder over the course of time, social constructionism and the media, and research on media depictions of mental illness. The author employed two content analysis instruments (Levers, 1988, 2001) to record the appearance of icons, stereotypes, and positive portrayals of mental illness in 14 feature-length American films, which contain scenes of psychiatric hospitalization. Each film became a case study, and for each case, the author included content analysis findings, plot and character summaries, and discussion on mental disorder representation through images, speech, and themes. The multiple cases culminated in a filmography, which can be a resource for individuals interested in, and concerned about, the nature in which mental disorder is portrayed in popular, contemporary movies. The results from this study indicate that iconic and stereotypical representations of mental disorder have remained consistent since Levers' (1988, 2001) inquiries. The author identified 60 of 61 icons listed on the Icons of Madness viewing rubric (Levers, 1988, 2001) and all stereotypes and positive portrayals on the Thematic Portrayals of Mental Disorder viewing rubric (Levers, 1988, 2001). More specifically, the four most commonly depicted icons and the top five stereotypes were the same in both the present and Levers' (1988, 2001) studies. The one notable difference between these and Levers' (1988, 2001) results was the increased frequency of positive portrayals of mental illness; more positive portrayals occurred in this investigation as compared to Levers' earlier research. New icons, stereotypes, and positive portrayals of mental disorder not originally listed on the viewing rubrics were identified, too. The author discusses the present findings in light of future research possibilities, counselor education, and client advocacy.