“I’m Not Gonna Hurt You​—​I’m Just Gonna Bash Your Brains in”: A Comparative Analysis of Horror Films and Mental Health Policy in America

Date of Award

Spring 5-2019

Document Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Public Administration and Policy

Advisor/Committee Chair

Lucy Sorensen, Ph.D.


The purpose of this research is to examine the relationship between horror films and public perception of the mentally ill, and the subsequent impact on mental health legislation in America from 1980 to 2018. The primary research findings are that deinstitutionalization of psychiatric hospitals in the late 1950s and early 1960s, combined with the advent of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which pathologizes much of the normal spectrum of human experience, has contributed to exaggerated, inaccurate, and terrifying depictions of mental illness in horror films, leading to further stigma of the mentally ill. The horror films examined, most of which are widely known cultural landmarks, have broad public exposure; the two films analysed most heavily in this paper are The Shining and Black Swan. They have contributed to a negative public perception of mental illness, which inturn, has negatively impacted American mental health legislation. Ultimately, this thesis seeks to determine whether horror films have directly impacted mental health policy, and if so, if this correlation has improved since 1980 or remained the same.

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