Spoilers for It’s Kind Of A Funny Story lie ahead.
For many of us, the cinema is more than a night out. And for those in the grip of mental health issues, seeing something you’re up against in real life being reflected honestly on the big screen can be something of huge importance. That’s why I want to talk about a low profile movie called It’s Kind Of A Funny Story.
Mental health is hitting each generation younger and harder it seems, with devastating consequences. A spike in psychiatric disorders has seen depression and anxiety soar by a staggering 70 percent over the past 25 years. It’s causing a very real crisis in classrooms across the nation, with an estimated one in five young people suffering from some sort of mental illness. Childhoods are being snuffed out before our very eyes and yet there is a grave lack of resources to tackle this psychological wildfire. As a society we have never been more open and honest about our personal struggles, yet chronic underfunding ensures treatment is an excruciating waiting game for many, if not unattainable altogether.
It was towards the end of my secondary school days (back in 2009) that I first fell into the void of depression. It started off as a fleeting shadow here or there, a silent companion that no one else could see, slyly shrouding each day in encroachingly suffocating darkness. My life was seemingly over before it began. Mental health never appeared on the school syllabus back then, nor was it talked about anywhere near as much. Personally, I didn’t even know such a thing existed. We were supposed to take the overwhelming exam pressure and just ‘deal’ with it right? The good old British way, stiff upper lip and all.
Having auto-piloted through my GCSEs the sense of numbness wore off rapidly leaving me open to emotions I had no idea how to handle. To hush the internal torment I started to physically hurt myself, whilst it gave some little escape to the unbearable emotional state I found myself in, there was some weird solace in knowing that outwardly I matched the inside. In 2011 I stumbled across a little known film called It’s Kind Of A Funny Story, which is based on Ned Vizzini’s semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. Starring Zach Galifianakis and Emma Roberts this coming-of-age dramedy serves up an unusual 12A look at clinical depression. Craig Gilner (Keir Gilchrist) is a determined New York teenager, striving for the best in life. So why is he repeatedly envisioning jumping off a bridge in the early hours of Sunday morning?
Craig hurriedly checks himself into the local A&E which in turn lands him in the adult psych ward (the children’s wing is under refurbishment). Concluding he doesn’t meet the required level of crazy, Craig seeks to leave hospital immediately but is told there is a mandatory five day stay once committed. Throughout the course of the film we witness Craig’s extreme amplification of chronic teenage angst, in his case the extraordinary stress of elite school pressure coupled with his father’s pushy occupational idea. He is also surrounded by a best friend who seems to effortlessly have it all and an unrequited crush who consumes Craig as a whirlpool of infatuation.
It may have been a couple of years after my school departure, but the resonance that echoed throughout It’s Kind Of A Funny Story was flabbergasting.
The constant comparison to peers, endless statistical and frequently unreachable targets across numerous subjects, it all wound up to a potentially lethal breaking point both in reality and fictitiously. There’s a plethora of triggers that can exacerbate mental illness (biological traits, bereavement for example). However, exam stress is the leading cause for youths. The inability to handle ever demanding stress filters down into every aspect of life, from self-esteem to social interactions. Plus with ever accessible technology there is no break.
It’s Kind Of A Funny Story can be accused of being seemingly light at times, especially when compared to the likes of Girl, Interrupted and other stalwart mental health depictions. Though this may be true it is important to remember that relaying comparable stories of illness, treatment and recovery is paramount when breaking down stigma. Mainstream age appropriate portrayals are hard to come by when trying to convey something as daunting and intricate as mental health.
Today’s youth are expected to have every moment of their lives perfectly polished for social media spotlight scrutiny at any given second. Breaking down these ridiculous celebrity driven ideals is wholly necessary. In the film, Craig comes to discover his envied best friend Aaron (Thomas Mann) and now ex crush Nia (Zoë Kravitz) both struggle with depression also. The more mental health is given a sense of normalcy the easier it is for everyone young and old alike. Films like this really, really help.
It’s Kind Of A Funny Story can be interpreted with Craig being ‘cured’ in five days, yet I am inclined to disagree. The hormonal turbulence of adolescence is a rocky enough road, and if you throw depression or anxiety into the ring and you have an outright catastrophe waiting to happen. We began with a boy so desperate to take his own life and by the end we see a teenager who is beginning to see a sunray through the clouds. The fact Craig takes it upon himself to seek medical care is such a positive message especially for a character in crisis mode. Yes, he gets the girl he’s bonded with throughout treatment Noelle (Emma Roberts) and in reality we would all like a happy ending if possible however clichéd it may be.
In the face of such mental health challenges, we need to find coping strategies and an openness of honest dialogue no matter where. In the opening scenes of the film Craig states “Sometimes I wish I had an easy answer for why I’m depressed. That my father beat me, or I was sexually abused. But, my problems are less… dramatic than that.”
Mental illness doesn’t discriminate against anyone, though others may have more severe diagnoses and harder circumstances no scale should invalidate your access to care. It’s a message that needs to be shouted from the roof tops: you wouldn’t leave a physical wound untreated no matter how small. Education is the most fundamental factor for equipping our youth with the empowerment to tackle mental health head on. Films such as It’s Kind Of A Funny Story really do help.