Silver Linings Playbook was one of the most talked about movies heading into last Sunday’s 85th Academy Awards with nominations in all four acting categories.
After eight months of rehabilitation, Pat, a man who suffers from bipolar disorder, is released under the condition that he continues his therapy while in the care of his parents. Learning that his cheating wife, Nikki, has moved on after a violent outbreak, which resulted in Pat’s admission into the mental institution, he struggles to get his life back in order. It is not until he befriends Tiffany, a widow who also suffers from an unnamed mental disability, that he is able to find a peaceful and loving relationship again.
The movie was inspired by, filmmaker, David Russell’s son Matthew, and his struggles with bipolar disorder. The success of the movie has brought awareness to this, and other mental disabilities, such as obsessive compulsive disorder. Despite being categorized as a romantic comedy, the film shows the dark battle that many experience and the stigma attached to those with mental disabilities.
Pat admits that he did not know he was living with bipolar disorder until his wife’s affair triggered his violent response. Until then, he understood that he experienced dramatic mood swings, but believed he could control his emotions and actions. Consequently, along with rehabilitative therapy, he is instructed to take medication to control his temperament and emotions. Initially, he rejects the medication: he is in denial that it is necessary.
It is disheartening to think that there are people who despite being dependent on medication to manage their condition, think otherwise and fear social rejection. The invisibility of their impairment makes it difficult for people to see and understand their ideas and behaviour. There is a stigma attached to medication needed to control the symptoms of mental disabilities: it can be viewed as a taboo within society. Those with psychological disabilities tend to be discriminated and distanced from “able” individuals unless effort is made to “correct” the particular disability. This can be especially difficult for some, like those similar to Pat in Silver Linings Playbook, who do not identify as having a disability. One’s identification is important, and has a significant impact on the willingness to accept help.
Moreover, the combination of those with “invisible” disabilities but identify as an “able” individual might lead to dangerous situations. As seen in the movie, society does not understand that Pat has bipolar disorder. Consequently, when Pat and Tiffany break out into a fight in the middle of their date, bystanders trigger emotions that lead to one of Pat’s episodes. The safety of Pat, Tiffany, and the bystanders are jeopardized. Since Pat does not have a visible disability, society assumes that he is able. However, they do not understand his condition. Tragically, even if they knew about his disorder, the stigma associated with mental disabilities would have likely also created some kind of toxic environment. In an interview with actress Jennifer Lawrence, who played Tiffany’s character, she was asked to comment on the awareness the movie brought to mental disabilities: “I don’t think it’s gonna’ stop until we get rid of the stigma… As soon as you have to take medication for your mind, there’s a stigma behind it.”
Just as Jennifer Lawrence stated, it is important to raise awareness about mental disability in order for there to be progress in overcoming the stigma associated with the disorder. The use of popular culture and mainstream media is a powerful tool to help raise awareness. Movies like Silver Linings Playbook demonstrate the important role society’s acceptance and understanding of mental disabilities plays in order for those suffering to gain the courage and confidence in self-acceptance. Rather than living in ignorance and being ashamed for their differences, society benefits as a whole when prejudice does not exist. In the end, all humans are the same; capable of loving, supportive, and honest relationships regardless of ones abilities or disabilities.