What ‘Girl, Interrupted’ Taught me about Mental Health

Girl Interrupted is a movie directed by James Mangold. Mental illness is a serious issue, that is portrayed in this film. It harps on the struggles of mental illness between teenage women. Susanna Kaysen, an 18 year old teenage girl was instated into a psychiatric center known as Claymoore after trying to commit suicide for an unknown reason. When she first appeared in this facility, she met many other girls with their own issues. Susanna grew up with not too many friends, especially those that were girls. She soon became very close to the ones she had recently met. One of her best friends was Lisa, who was recognized as a sociopath and in Claymoore for eight years. She had a very strong psychological hold on everyone in the center, including Susanna. Lisa constantly started trouble whether it be with the girls, or escaping the center. Other friends of Susanna were Georgina (suffers from depression and compulsive lying disorder), Daisy (compulsive eating disorder), and Polly (schizophrenia). Throughout the movie, Susanna soon learns that she has borderline personality disorder. She did not take this information lightly, and ended up leaving the ward with Lisa. Once returning, after seeing that Daisy committed suicide, she turned a new leaf. Susanna had hope given from her doctor Valerie expressing that she could leave if she works hard enough and opens up. Susanna ended up writing about how she felt everyday in a journal. At the end of the movie, she stuck up for herself against Lisa and got out of the psychiatric center after only one year.

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Overall, this film focused on the emotions of the characters and life in the ward. Critics had a substantial amount to say towards Girl Interrupted. Some critics explained how the main actresses Winona Ryder (Susanna) and Angelina Jolie (Lisa) were outstanding in their performance. Angelina Jolie was also nominated and won Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in this movie. A critic explained that if you’ve ever questioned your own sanity or escaped periods of exceptional melancholy in your life, this film is certain to trigger old fears. But it is also certain to remind you how exquisite and simple salvation can often be(Girl Interrupted 1999, 2000).

Girl Interrupted is a prime example of an existential reality. Characters throughout the entire film go through mortality, freedom, isolation, and meaning. Susanna represents the idea of mortality by repressing her thoughts, in addition to Daisy commiting suicide towards the end of the film. Susanna finds freedom in herself when she sticks up to Lisa, while isolation is represented by many of the girls because of their mental illness. Susanna felt very lonely before meeting the girls in the psychiatric ward. She eventually finds meaning in her life once realizing that she can be okay, especially if she expresses her thoughts. This film made the audience understand how hard and confusing life can be for people with mental illness, and to be grateful for what you have in your life.

Dealing with the cinematography of this film, the creators provided an amazing tone using colors and shadows of lighting in the night time scenes. The use of these shadows are expressive of the feeling of tension and tragedy (Meadows, 2000).The lighting not only gives the audience a certain feeling, but also lets the audience form opinions based off of the characters shown. Another example of how light was used, is when it lead to foreshadowing. Lisa and Susanna are in Daisy’s house and Lisa is emotionally attacking Daisy. As Daisy walks up the stairs of her house, an abundance of light is seen to be at the top, which sets the tone for the next scene in which Susanna finds Daisy dead (Harley and Lancaster, 2014). The bright light expresses heaven and God, especially since it is at the top of the steps, in which God is above us just like where the light was coming from. Lighting is also represented dealing with Susanna as a character. At first she was basically considered the underdog, plus she was the one holding in all her thoughts and emotions, so the lighting surrounding her was very dark and shadowy. In the end of the film, the lighting is a lot brighter on Susanna because she finally was able to express her emotions.

Another example of cinematography is based off of the camera angles. The camera is constantly zooming in on the faces of many of the characters in the film, because this part of the body is very vulnerable especially in situations such as when Susanna was speaking to her therapist, or when Susanna was comforting Lisa (Harley and Lancaster, 2014). The theme of this movie , in addition to the cinematography allows for the portrayal of the overall message illustrating the ideas that people tend to hold onto their feelings instead of expressing them and letting go. The film raises attention to the element of self reflection.

Throughout Girl Interrupted, there were a ton of psychological and mental issues/disorders portrayed by the cast. Susanna had bipolar disorder, while Lisa had antisocial personality disorder. Georgina (Susanna’s roommate) also had depression and compulsive lying disorder. Claymoore was filled with teenage girls with mental illnesses, who were in desperate need of help. The film tries to portray the emotions and actions of people with specific mental disorders. Research is being conducted still to this day on trying to understand the characteristics, symptoms and results of patients with psychological and mental problems.

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness usually represented by an ongoing pattern of varying moods, self-image, and/or behaviors. People who are diagnosed as bipolar tend to experience intense episodes of anger, depression, and anxiety. Some symptoms would be abrupt, dangerous behaviors, and self-harming behaviors, in addition to highly changeable moods (Borderline Personality Disorder, 2017) Research had been conducted in 2005 based off of borderline personality disorder. In some young adults it may be hard distinguishing unipolar and bipolar depression from borderline personality disorder. Unipolar depression is characterized primarily from sadness and lack of interest, while bipolar depression is based off of manic episodes and extreme mood swings. The main goal for this research was to measure the borderline characteristics between three different participation groups. Each young adult participating was dealing currently with major depression. They each had to complete borderline questions, in addition to a diagnostic exam. The research concluded that groups that were bipolar depressed had significantly higher median levels of borderline characteristics than unipolar. Some of these characteristics were the thought and attempt of suicide, having angry outbursts, and/or giving into aggressive urges. With this research, clinicians will be able to differentiate between bipolar depression and unipolar depression in young adults (Smith et al. 2005)

In 2016, more research was conducted on the effects and symptoms of BPD. The objective was to characterize the emotional experiences both positive and negative in young adults with BPD. Participants were assigned to complete a clinical review for researchers to assess their borderline personality disorder symptoms. Once this was done, for two weeks, researchers measured the positive and negative emotions of their participants. The results that were found were that borderline personality disorder revealed an increase in negative emotions, but positive emotions had not decreased. When characterizing the emotional experiences of these young adults with BPD, these individuals are most commonly distinguished by their heightened negative emotional experiences (Chu et al. 2016).

From the film, Susanna portrays similar characteristics as the participants used in the research above that distinguishes her as someone diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. In the first study, it was found that some characteristics were the thought and attempt of suicide, outbursts, and/or giving into aggressive urges (Smith et al. 2005). Susanna in the beginning of the film attempted suicide by drinking vodka and overdosing on aspirins. Then once in the psychiatric ward, she had her own rude outbursts when she didn’t understand why she was there or how to fix how she was feeling mentally. Also Susanna provided evidence of promiscuity and extreme attachment. The research done in 2016 explained that borderline personality disorder revealed an increase in negative emotions (Chu et al. 2016). With this being said, Susanna sank into deep depression once Lisa gets sent into another ward. Susanna became very rude as well. Susanna (Winona Ryder) portrays borderline personality disorder very well in this film.

Antisocial personality disorder (sociopathy) is a mental condition, defined as when a person shows no regard for right and wrong, they tend to ignore the feelings and rights of others. People who have sociopathy manipulate and antagonize people within their situations feeling no guilt for their behavior. Some symptoms include disregard for what is right and wrong, consistent lying, manipulation of others, arrogance, violation of laws, lack of empathy, unnecessary risk taking, etc. (Antisocial personality disorder, 2017). Studies have shown that people who have ASPD have deficits mentally in areas associated with brain control and functioning. Research was conducted for a review to try and control the symptoms that come with this disorder. Researchers believed the use of meditation may have potential effectiveness on the brain. Clinical evidence was reviewed giving preliminary support of meditation reducing ASPD symptoms. Researchers used specific framework consisting of the forebrain, midbrain, hindbrain, and limbic system to be able to provide evidence that meditative interventions increase brain functioning and control. With the increase in empathic functioning and inhibitory control, symptoms of antisocial personality disorder were noticed to decrease (Holthouser and Bui, 2015).

Another research had been conducted dealing with people in treatment for substance use who have antisocial personality disorder. In this research, a randomized trial was conducted assessing for self rated help on participants who had antisocial personality disorder, in addition to substance abuse during month three, nine, and fifteen. Psychoeducation was used, which is defined as a process of providing educational information to those seeking or receiving mental health services. The results concluded that brief psychoeducation increased participants self rated help for antisocial personality disorder was associated with more days abstinent and higher treatment satisfaction. There was also a reduced risk of dropping out after month three (Thylstrup et al. 2017).

In Girl Interrupted, the second Lisa stepped foot into the clinical, you noticed a drop in many of the young women’s faces. Lisa was a diagnosed as a sociopath, which is medically known as antisocial personality disorder. She was the center of attention, in addition to constantly getting herself into trouble. Throughout the entire film, Lisa was either escaping from the hospital, or manipulating some of the women at Claymoore. As stated in the research conducted about antisocial personality disorder, patients have symptoms consisting of a disregard for what is right and wrong, manipulation of others, antagonization, etc (Antisocial personality disorder, 2017). One prime example of when Lisa (Angelina Jolie) perfectly portrayed antisocial personality disorder was when she visited Daisy at her home with Susanna. Lisa screamed at Daisy explaining how she has sexual attractions to her father, in addition to calling Daisy obese. Daisy was mentally ill with a compulsive eating disorder. The next morning, Susanna found Daisy dead because of suicide. Lisa led Daisy to kill herself with all the hateful and manipulating words she had said the night before. Once realizing Daisy was dead, Lisa stole her money and left with no remorse. Any sane person would have been in shock, in addition to feeling anxiety and sadness in that moment, but Lisa did not.

Depression is a serious medical condition that negatively affects how you feel, act, and the way in which you think. Some symptoms consist of feeling sad, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite, trouble sleeping, and loss of energy (Parekh, 2017). On the other hand, compulsive lying disorder is commonly defined as a medical issue when lies on a regular basis and is unable to control their lying despite of foreseeing inevitable negative consequences or ultimate disclosure of the lie (Parekh, 2017). A study was conducted to try and understand individuals use of self-statements reflecting self-criticism, and low self-worth. These statements tend to be linked to the incidence, severity, and recurrence of major depressive disorder. Self-talk in early and late therapy sessions were examined. Researchers had identified changes at the end of treatment, and used hierarchical multiple regression to examine whether improvements in patient self-talk influenced treatment outcome. The results concluded that the trends provided indicated that patients used friendlier and less critical self-statements at the end of treatment. Also, a decrease in self-critical behavior was associated with fewer symptoms towards the end of treatment. Self acceptance had increased as well towards the end of treatment (Thompson et al. 2018).

In other words, a study had been conducted based on the idea of compulsive lying disorder in 2016. The cognitive view on deception holds that lying typically requires additional mental effort as compared to truth telling. Psychopathy, however, has been associated with compulsive lying. In this research, the participants consisted of fifty-two offenders, in which deception paradigm was included in the trials with the free choice to lie or to tell the truth. The primary analyses involved correlations between psychopathy, the ease of lying, and the frequency of lying. The results concluded that since the participants preferred truth telling over lying, leads to the support of the cognitive theory of lying. It has been proven that when people are offered the option to perform one of two tasks, they typically prefer the easier task above the more difficult one. Clinically, it is interesting that manipulative offenders chose to lie in spite of probable negative consequences, which points to compulsive lying disorder (Verschuere and Hout, 2016).

Depression and compulsive lying disorder were one of the last most prevalent mental illnesses during this film. Georgina was the first person Susanna met as she arrived at Claymoore. Georgina ends up becoming Susanna’s roommate, but seems pretty normal. Throughout the film, she had been pretty calm, but showed some traits, that provided clues expressing her psychological disorders. As stated in the research, Georgina followed the symptoms explained, such as her loss of appetite and her trouble sleeping to portray examples of her depressive disorder. The first time Susanna met Georgina, she explained herself by sharing her psychological disorder known as compulsive lying disorder. No one really knew when she was telling the truth or when she was lying. Susanna realized towards the end of the film that Georgina only lies to the people she fears.

Girl Interrupted was overall a very interesting and entertaining film. It harps on the struggles of mental illness between teenage women. Susanna Kaysen, an 18 year old teenage girl was instated into a psychiatric center known as Claymoore after trying to commit suicide for an unknown reason. She soon became very close to the girls she had recently met, such as Lisa, who was recognized as a sociopath, Georgina (suffers from depression and compulsive lying disorder), Daisy (compulsive eating disorder), and Polly (schizophrenia). Throughout the movie, Susanna soon learns that she has borderline personality disorder. In the end, Susanna moves out of the Claymoore house because she finally allowed herself to open up and express her feeling and emotions to others, instead of keeping them bottled up inside. The cinematography of the film consisted of lighting changes and different camera angles/techniques to portray certain emotions from the audience. Girl Interrupted allowed for the audience to better understand mental illnesses in today’s society. With this being said, researchers are still looking for treatments and will continue in search of bettering the symptoms of these psychological disorders.

Works Cited

Antisocial personality disorder. (2017). Retrieved from Mayo Clinic website: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/antisocial-personality-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20353928

Borderline Personality Disorder. (2017). NIMH. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml

Chu, C., Victor, S., & Klonsky, D. (2016). Characterizing Positive and Negative Emotional Experiences in Young Adults with Borderline Personality Disorder. NIH. Retrieved from PubMed database.

Girl Interrupted 1999. (2000). Retrieved from IMDb website: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0172493/

Harley, D., & Lancaster, T. (2014). Express Yourself. Retrieved from Through The Lens: REEL READING website: https://reelreading.weebly.com/girl-interrupted.html

Holthouser, B., & Bui, N. (2015). Meditative interventions and antisocial personality disorder. Routledge. https://doi.org/10.1080/09515070.2015.1026311

Meadows, A. (2000, January 19). Girl, Interrupted. Retrieved from The Tech website: https://tech.mit.edu/V119/N68/Girl,_Interrupt.68a.html

Parekh, R. (2017, January). What Is Depression? Retrieved from American Psychiatric Association website: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/what-is-depression

Smith, D., Muir, W., & Blackwood, D. (2005). Borderline Personality Disorder Characteristics in Young Adults With Recurrent Mood Disorders: A Comparison of Bipolar and Unipolar Depression. PubMed. https://doi.org/10.1016

Thompson, K., D’Iuso, D., Schwartzman, D., Dobson, K., & Drapaeu, M. (2018). Changes in depressed patients’ self-statements. Psychotherapy Research. https://doi.org/10.1080/10503307.2018.1543976

Thylstrup, B., Schroder, S., Fridell, M., & Hesse, M. (2017). Did you get any help? A post-hoc secondary analysis of a randomized controlled trial of psychoeducation for patients with antisocial personality disorder in outpatient substance abuse treatment programs. NCBI. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-016-1165-2

Verschuere, B., & Hout, W. (2016). Psychopathic Traits and Their Relationship with the Cognitive Costs and Compulsive Nature of Lying in Offenders. PlosOne. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0158595

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What 'Girl, Interrupted' Taught Me About Mental Health. (2019, Aug 05). Retrieved January 29, 2022 , from
https://studydriver.com/what-girl-interrupted-taught-me-about-mental-health/

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