- With Halloween around the corner, experts have opined on the much-debated link between mental health and horror movies.
- They contend that viewing such a popular genre comes with both pros and cons.
Horror Movies Exploit Mental Health Disorders
Most horror and thriller films follow the tried-and-tested formula of a mentally tormented killer or dead soul terrorizing human beings. Specifically, in slasher films, the killer emerges from a mental asylum and embarks on a killing spree.
Popular culture depictions of mental illness mostly center around the commonly fascinating but misunderstood severe mental health disorders like:
- Personality disorders
- Dissociative identity disorders
- Necrophilia, etc.
In the last two decades, films have emerged that sensitively and realistically portray mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorders, etc.
However, the major gamut of horror movies churned out of the major film industries across the world—think Mama (2013), Psycho (1960), The Halloween franchise, The Grudge franchise, The Haunting of Hill House (2018), etc.—has fed off stereotypical perceptions of the mentally ill. Their mental illnesses are sensationalized to account for the horrors that emerge in the wake of their abnormal thought and behavior patterns.
How Horror Movies Affect Your Physical Health?
Horror movies are designed to elicit certain physical and psychological responses associated with suspense, stress, fear, shock, and danger. Cinematic works in the horror genre can trigger physiological conditions like:
- A surge of hormones such as norepinephrine, cortisol, and adrenaline
- Panic responses from the autonomic nervous system
- Pupil dilation
- Increased heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Muscle tension
- Headaches, etc.
How Horror Movies Affect Your Mental Health?
Emerging research further elaborates on the psychological effects of horror movies, such as:
- Anxiety sensitivity
- Intensified negative emotions
- Heightened pathological fears
- Poor sleep
- Persistent nightmares
- Acute psychotic symptoms (like hallucinations, delusions, and distorted perceptions of reality)
- Nausea, etc.
The Positive Effects of Horror Films
Nonetheless, despite the negative relationship between horror movies and mental health, horror films do have some positive impacts. Watching horror movies can help one combat one’s fears of loneliness, darkness, etc.
It can also be used for relaxation from unpleasant distress, frustration, anger, etc., as well as enhance one’s psychological resilience in stressful situations. More recently, “scream therapy” or “scream meditation” has come into vogue to treat mental health issues related to neurosis, psychosis, and trauma disorders.
Watch Horror Films In A Mentally Healthy Way!
Horror movies are frequently considered enjoyable for their innovative analysis of human psychology and ability to trigger thrilling sensations that come with the “adrenaline rush” and “jump scares”. Developing healthy ways to enjoy both mental health and horror can limit how negatively horror movies impact psychological health in the long run.
Consider the following measures to enjoy a scary movie whilst maintaining your well-being:
- Figure out the subgenres of horror movies you like (such as paranormal, slasher, vampire, zombie, serial killer, demonic possession, etc.)
- Consider spoilers to help you choose the better-suited horror film
- Understand the shortcomings in your health conditions while viewing horror movies
- Set limits to your viewing. Horror works can be extremely addictive and, so, beware of binge-watching
- Develop a habit to disengage yourself from the contents of the movie, after you have finished viewing
- Take mini breaks (like bathroom breaks) during viewing
- Consider watching horror movies during the day or with lights on at night to reduce their psychological strain
- Watch such films in a group to minimize the impact of horror
Are all horror movies bad?
Horror movies are a popular genre and it is natural to feel attracted to them—especially during Halloween. While experts have cautioned against the negative effects of horror movies on mental health, they have also acknowledged that viewing these works mindfully, optimally, and cautiously can be beneficial to both your mental health and your ability to enjoy quality entertainment.
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