But is she taking her medication? Movies & Myths About Crazy Roommates

Don and I went to see a movie the other night, and gosh, we had fun! I mean, there’s nothing funner than going out for a nice evening with your husband and being confronted straight on with the knowledge that one of the scariest things some people can imagine is being forced to live with someone like you! Yay, fun times for everyone!

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Poster for the upcoming film The Roommate. The tagline is 2,000 colleges. 8 million roommates. Which one will you get?


The particular film trailer that is paining me this month is for “The Roommate”. At first looks like some sort of “And then they went to university and had awesome adventures” sort of film, right up until that immortal line “She is taking her medications, right?”

There’s a whole genre of these particular films which take an idea that can be pretty scary – moving in with a stranger or virtual stranger – and kick it up a notch. If it’s a comedy, then obviously the problem will be someone who drinks all the milk or borrows all your clothes or is just really annoying, and that particular story will usually be about two white dudes, and in the end the hero will get the girl. When they want to really frighten people with some thriller-version, then it’ll be all about the scary white chick who moves into some other white woman’s life, kills some of her friends, seduces her boyfriend, and tries to steal everything away from her, while some family member eventually reveals that the crazy lady is on medication for some undefined mental health condition.

Gosh, I have no idea why stigma is still attached to mental health conditions!

I really hate that I can’t turn around twice without being reminded that people like me, just by virtue of existing in the world, are scary. There’s always someone reminding me of that, whether it’s a classmate telling me she’ll just say she’s crazy if she kills someone so she can get off without punishment (even though Canada’s jails are full of people with mental health conditions), the near constant repetition of the myth that crazy people are more likely to be violent (even though people with mental health conditions are actually far more likely to be the victims of violent crime rather than the perpetrators), or waiting for the next remake of Single White Female to be put into general release.

I know. They’re just films, and they really are just taking the perfectly normal fear of moving in with someone you don’t know and exaggerating them for effect. But I also know that people are really afraid of those of us with mental health conditions, and that the stigma and myths about mental health conditions can make it really hard for people who are having problems to seek out help. I have also had many discussions with people who have been honest about their mental health conditions to roommates or university officials, and suffered the consequences.

I often see the housing concerns framed as a concern for other students – being around someone with a significant mental illness might traumatize them. And I agree that finding me dead in a bathroom would have traumatized someone. But my self-harm and my mania did not seem to me to be any more potentially traumatizing for other students than my dormmates who would go to the communal bathroom to throw up after every meal, those who were using hard drugs like cocaine, or even those who would binge drink until passing out naked on the stairway, none of whom ever suffered any potential housing consequences. To say nothing of my then-boyfriend, who was then causing me active and ongoing psychological trauma through his emotional abuse and who got to stay in the dorm with all our mutual friends after I was shipped across campus. That I was the only student looked at by the university and potentially subject to penalties – and identified as potentially problematic because I sought lifesaving and appropriate care – speaks volumes about how students with mental disabilities are seen by administrators.

I hate these movies because of the stereotypes they reinforce. I hate that these stereotypes are the main reason I don’t discuss my diagnosis. I hate that I can’t just go to the movies without being reminded that my existence is scary-thriller frightening to enough people to make these movies popular.

Mostly, I’d just like to go see a movie without the reminder. It makes my popcorn taste bad.

5 responses to “But is she taking her medication? Movies & Myths About Crazy Roommates”

  1. sanabituranima

    You know what? This reminds me of a story that ACTUALLY HAPPENED, when a “normal” room-mate murdered his mentally disabled flatmate.

    The victim was named Scott Hawkins and he was beaten to death with a baseball bat by a man named Quran Jones. The murder is thought to have been partially prompted by Jones’ use if hallucinogenic street drugs.

    http://www.theautismnews.com/2009/10/25/a-study-of-gentle-contrasts-but-something-went-terribly-wrong/

    When I first heard about the story, people complained it was an example of the “perils of mainstreaming.”

    http://sanabituranima.wordpress.com/2009/10/31/ew/

  2. Neville Park

    I had someone tell me, in a conversation about my general life situation, that I should make sure any prospective roommates did not have a mental illness. I objected that since my mental illness did not in itself obviate my right to live with other people if I chose, neither should anyone else’s. They said, “But what if they have [more severe symptoms stereotypically associated with violence]?” I pointed out that I might eventually develop [more severe symptoms] myself, and in my admittedly limited knowledge such people were not necessarily (or even likely to be) violent.

    The conversation would have been less aggravating had this other person not been a nurse. Treating me. In a psychiatric emergency unit. Yeah…

    (There is so much more to say about the conjunction of mental illness and housing issues, especially regarding poverty, but I won’t blather on here!)

  3. Static Nonsense

    Boy, this sounds familiar.

    I’ve been one of those roommates (minus the murder part, though I’m sure people were sure I’d have done it). ‘Tis one reason why I made sure my roommate was someone I knew and trusted, someone who knew about my mental health issues in advance (though admittingly, didn’t have full experience with my relapses). And ’tis one of the reasons why if I go back to school, and if I have to live in a dorm, I’m going to insist on a private room. Because I don’t want to be lumped into that category.

    Granted, the rest of the floor did it anyway.

    But still.

  4. KJ

    I can say, with perfect honesty, that my roommates with diagnosed mental heath conditions were 50x better than my roommates without any diagnosed disorders. Plus, I could talk to them openly about my experiences and those talks helped me to realize I was not alone. I still remember the comfort of having my first roommate tell me about her mental health condition- because I knew then she wouldn’t judge me for my issues. We had really open, honest conversations that still make me smile to remember. She was the first person who I could tell about my experiences in the mental health system and not feel like I was being judged. So comforting.

    So this sort of ‘oh, mental health is so scary’ meme drives me up the wall. I like people who are compassionate and understanding- and I’ve found that people who have struggled themselves are better roommates and friends than those who haven’t. Not a universal rule of course, but that has been my experience.

  5. Sarah

    When I was in college, I had people who lived near me (in the same hall or suite) who were scared of me because of things I did–typically things I did in the privacy of my own (single) room. Many of them decided to contact the Dean of Students office about me, to report on my behavior (as they perceived it) in some level of detail. They didn’t talk to me about it–possibly because they were scared of the crazy chick? I don’t know. I do know that I didn’t have any social contact whatsoever with many of the people who were scared of me and reported me. The rest I had minimal contact with. I hadn’t ever given any indication that I was going to harm them personally, and yet they perceived me as a threat for reasons beyond my control. It got to the point where people were commenting (to the Associate Dean) on how I walked and allegedly slammed the door to my room. It was terrible. I hadn’t harmed anyone. Perhaps I did cause some noise at times, but that was hardly unique. Once I was identified as Other (crazy) everything I did was put under the microscope and perceived as threatening. I wonder how much these kinds of ableist narratives lead people to have these views.

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