(46) ‘All the Bright Places’ Reveals the Impact of Mental Illness

Some films have a lot to teach us about mental health

Photo on Unsplash by Noah Buscher

All the Bright Places is originally a book written by Jennifer Niven, which is now streaming on Netflix. It may seem bizarre as to why a movie has grasped so much of my attention, and why I would write a review about it but it did, and here’s an article about it.

The main theme of this movie is mental health.

The movie is said to be dedicated to all those who are/have been through a mental illness, specifically suicidal thoughts and depression.

Elle Fanning plays the role of Violet Markey who is a teenager that recently lost her sister in a car accident. Throughout the movie, her feelings and thoughts are unwrapped as she meets this incredible young man who goes to the same school as her.

Justice Smith plays the role of this highly energetic man — Theodore Finch and finds this rustic looking girl lost within herself. He brings about a charismatic avenue to the movie and a bubbly character to life. Looking at him first sight, there is nothing less than a sense of fulfilment that you would expect from him. But that didn’t last entirely.

Violet went onto a phase of depression after the sudden death of her sister — car crash, and felt a sense of confusion and loss; as would anyone. The movie kicks off where she finds herself at the bridge where she lost her sister, only this time she was standing on top of the ledge.

Not long into this introduction and Finch finds himself staring at her on the bridge, with his persuasiveness, he talks her out of it and you could say that’s where their story begins…

Finch was not the popular kid in school, although he had friends you could count on one hand, this did not stop him from having his fun. They say that an energetic and happy person on the outside always has a scar hidden on the inside — this was him.

For the first half of the movie little did I know anything about how his emotions ride (obviously I did expect it coming since I had watched the trailer), but it wasn’t unravelled until later.

In my understanding, he presented as a very disturbed mind. One that didn’t seem to have control over their mind, that feeling when you’re weak with emotions and helpless when your thoughts ride over you and you end up doing something you’ll regret.

I know I have felt that. We all do at some point, but it is not noticed by others. Not until our actions have to face consequences.

Finch was later in the movie unravelled to be bipolar, his exact condition not revealed however, his traits portrayed very descriptively. I was well aware of this disease but it has piqued my interest up a lot since I watched the movie, to understand what it feels like living the lives of two people in one.

He disappears when he feels the second person has come knocking to the door, because that now, is not his good side. People with bipolar do not want to show the society that they have their low moods, they live in constant fear of disapproval and misunderstanding.

Photo on Unsplash by Cristian Newman

I feel like I didn’t understand this condition until it came to me in this way of presentation, but since then I did a bit more reading on this and here are a few things about those with bipolar:

  1. They are the bubbliest, loveliest, chirpiest and anything positive-best kinds of human beings you’ll ever come across. They will always know how to lift your moods and brighten your day until they don’t.
  2. They’re damn good at what they do. When their energy levels are high, they are at their best performance and can outrun anybody in their profession or a task at their hand.
  3. They aren’t two people. But due to an imbalance in hormonal and neurone activity, they have sudden altering moods and energy levels.
  4. Their highs — They seem perfect.
  5. Their lows — It is known that some people have it so bad, they can’t move their bodies and end up in bed for weeks. Just out of the depression and the will not do anything at all until their levels pick up again.
  6. Because its causes aren’t fully understood there isn’t a set cure per se. However, there are medications available that can help create a balance within the hormones and bring back normal moods within the person.

It is not often that I can relate to the media out there and put myself in a position to say “That’s me.”

I won’t self-diagnose myself with bipolar but I do know how it would feel like being in someone’s shoes who is going through the same. Again, this is my understanding and my point of view, you reading this right now, you could be able to reflect the same but its not a must.

I have those times where like Finch in the movie I want to disappear for a bit and forget that I have responsibilities or people around me. It’s not a burden, but sometimes I need to stop being normal and giving what I’m expected of, and instead be opposite and try to reach my lowest point just so I can come back up again.

Finch has a temper. I have a temper. My sudden switches in mood can cause me a bit of trouble sometimes (most of the times to be fair). I can be in the happiest of moods and content about myself but in the quickest minute, say someone has said something I do not agree to, I’ll flip.

What I’m seeking to vocalize is that this movie has conveyed to me that my behaviours can only be justified to myself and not everybody. What I feel and how I treat others can’t always be resonated to my “moods”; I need to be more careful with how I carry myself forward.

The film depicts the point of views of all the characters and it is then that I understand how the other person must be feeling when I behave out of my way.

Let me give a scenario (Spoiler alert):

This scene takes place towards the end of the movie where Finch reaches his peak of self-destruction and depression. Violet, who is his girlfriend now reaches out to him for closure on his distant and unusual behaviour. To this, he arrogantly tells her to leave and gets super worked up about it.

While watching the movie, this pissed me off. All I wanted (and I was just watching this) is that he gave her at least a reason for his behaviour and treated her right of all people. Throughout the movie he was the kind of a boyfriend everybody would ask for and then he turns into such a Jerk! He was so good at shutting people out but out of respect for his girlfriend, all he had to do is talk to her.

In this case, ignorance is not bliss.

That bit itself, got me thinking of my behaviours when I set off. I tend to shut myself out too, I don’t give a chance to the people around me to comfort me, my mood just turns into a “pissy” one. And that time, I believed I needed to change that.

So, with the grace of this movie that I came across, I have vouched to communicate better with my loved ones and those around me, understand people and their feelings before mine and most importantly try to keep a positive attitude instead of being so gloom-ridden about everything.

There could be more like me out there who knows that something like a Bipolar condition exists but don’t understand what it is like to be in their shoes, let’s appreciate what they go through and spread some awareness.

I talked about Finch’s story, but there was a character diagnosed with a mental illness which wasn’t given as much limelight in the movie.

The main character Elle Fanning (Violet) had a close friend who went by the name Amanda (Virginia Gardner) in the movie.

Finch, at some point in the movie, attended a support group — he and I were both surprised to find her there honestly, it wasn’t portrayed that there could be anything wrong with her but here’s her story…

Amanda, at the support group, confessed to being bulimic.

To be bulimic means to constantly be in a cycle of overeating or ‘binge-eating’ in one sitting and then trying to get rid of those excess calories in a very unhealthy manner i.e. purging.

The photo on Unsplash by Jennifer Burk

A disorder as such is not easily recognisable as a mental disorder needing scrutiny. Often mistaken with anorexia nervosa, Bulimia affects the person’s brain, with persistent suicidal thoughts. They appear to be of average weight for their height and are often misdiagnosed due to their healthy appearance.

This condition initiates with weight loss dieting, which appears to be common at first, however it dwells into excessive nutrition deprivation that triggers a starvation feeling and eventually, an overwhelming feeling to over-eat to kill the starvation feeling.

The individual reaches out for any food that comes their way, common foods that are high in fats and sugar content since they have satisfaction. This cycle repeats in a very compulsive, unhealthy and uncontrollable manner:

Starve — Over-eat — Purge

As with bipolar disorder, I went ahead and did some reading on Bulimia nervosa and its effects, here’s what I found:

  1. The most common lookouts are the behaviours that involve food:
  • Distorted behaviours when it comes to activities revolving around foods
  • Recurring visits to the bathroom (especially after eating)
  • Distancing themselves from food a lot (since they have the fear of overeating in front of everybody and later putting on weight)
  • Huge alterations and increased sensitivity in weight

2. Secondly, we look closer at symptoms that you and I can easily overlook as just a ‘bad day’, most of these happen to us often but it isn’t taken seriously until the frequency increases:

  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Feelings of depression and mood swings
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sore throats (this comes as a result of constant purging, however, can be easily disregarded by those around you as a common cold or so)

3. Digging deeper into the mind of the individual, we now look at their cognitive behaviours and how the disorder affects them from a mental perspective:

  • Feelings of loneliness — they tend to isolate themselves from people due to fear of judgement and lack of confidence in their social skills
  • Fear of rejection and disapproval if their condition is known by people
  • Because of the binge eating, they tend to feel intense guilt, self loathe and self-disgust
  • The part where it becomes more harmful than it already is — harming themselves, drugs and other substance abuse, and even suicidal attempts

After reading all this, not only has it been an eye-opener on how under-educated we can be about mental health but also, how little we know about what the person being affected feels like.

Depression, bipolar disease, bulimia were just a few of the many that I decided to talk about because of my accidental discovery through the movie. The movie might have been for an entertainment incentive but for myself, it made me want to know more about the conditions talked about and further spread that knowledge through this article.

Nonetheless, it made me aware of my behaviours and that they needed to be worked on.

Mental illness is a serious condition, even people who have it don’t understand their diagnosis until they’re professionally diagnosed.

No, it is not mental health awareness month but like mentioned above, I just had an eye-opening experience and feel the need to put this message about awareness on a platform that I am privilege to be part of.

It is us, the gratefully gifted that have a platform such as medium, to make full use of it and try to help our world get better with the simplest of gesture — literally just by writing about it and acknowledging it.

This article encompasses three mental disorders, and it lies in my endeavours that the information that you read here can someday help you, help someone.

To end this article I would wish to share a quote by Fred Rogers:

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary.”

~ Fred Rogers

Photo on Unsplash by Tim Marshall

More of such articles on Medium.

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