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'Unsane' campaign consultant Honey Langcaster-James talks gaslighting and the portrayal of mental health in film.


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The National Student spoke to TV Psychologist Honey Langcaster-James about her work as the consultant psychologist for the upcoming film Unsane's promotional campaign. Langcaster-James has worked as a consultant psychologist in film and TV for a number of years and has worked behind the scenes on both Big Brother and Love Island.

Unsane is a thriller that follows the experience of Sawyer Valentini, played by Claire Foy, as she's admitted into a mental health facility. During her time in the hospital, Valentini becomes convinced that one of the employees has been stalking her for years. Here’s what Langcaster-James had to say about mental health in film, gaslighting and the psychological consequences of being a victim of stalking.

“Any film that brings important mental health-related themes to public awareness is a positive step forward”, says Langcaster-James. “I’m always glad when creators include mental health-related issues in their films because it opens up a dialogue and allows for exploration of important health-related themes.

“This is how awareness grows and people who might otherwise have been uninformed about mental health difficulties start to become educated and talk about things that they too, have experienced or witnessed in their loved ones.”

Langcaster-James also discusses how bringing issues such as psychological abuse and stalking to the public’s attention can raise awareness of them in society, encouraging anybody who thinks they might be experiencing it to seek help. “Unsane, and other films that depict mental health-related issues are important as they bring conversation around difficult subjects into the public sphere. In this particular movie themes relating to psychological abuse and trauma are explored.”

Throughout the film Valentini’s certainty about her stalker’s identity is constantly undermined, leading the audience to question her mental health. “In Unsane we see Sawyer (Claire Foy) struggling with the psychological and emotional effects of her difficult past experiences, and we witness her wrestling with not knowing whether she can trust her own mind or not. This is an experience that many people can relate to when they’ve suffered trauma or been victimised in an abusive relationship, so it’s great that we have the film to open up this area for discussion.”

An important psychological phenomenon that’s addressed in the film is gaslighting, a form of psychological manipulation that leads the victim to doubt their understanding of reality. “We use [gaslighting] to describe a type of manipulation when someone deliberately sows seeds of doubt in another person’s mind trying to make them doubt themselves or question their own perceptions, even their own sanity. Like all forms of abuse, it’s about power and control. As someone systematically makes you doubt yourself, they gain more power and control over you.”

Langcaster-James continued by explaining the origins of the word gaslighting: “The term originates from the play ‘Gas Light’ and later, the film with Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer. in which Bergman plays a sensitive, trusting wife who is in an abusive marriage. Her husband tries to convince her that she’s psychologically unwell and one of the ways he does this is by dimming and brightening the ‘gas lights’ but then telling her that she’s imagining them changing to make her doubt her own mind. Hence the term ‘gaslighting’.”

The very nature of gaslighting leads victims to doubt whether or not they are in fact victims of psychological abuse. But how can you tell for sure, whether or not you’re being gaslighted?

“The first sign is general confusion. If you start to feel confused by the fact that someone is telling you your perceptions are wrong, or that the way you’ve described things isn’t accurate, and yet it seems very real to you then you’ll start to be confused.

“If you start to question your own mind and wonder if you’re ‘going crazy’ or if you start making excuses and thinking that you must be paranoid then it’s possible someone is gaslighting you. It’s extremely rare for someone to be genuinely delusional and for there to be no basis in reality for your perceptions, so as a default you should have faith that you can trust your own perceptions. Typically speaking, if you’re questioning yourself, then it’s most likely you have a good grasp on reality, otherwise you probably wouldn’t even be wondering about it.

“Perpetrators of gaslighting often feign concern for you and act as if they are very kind or helpful when in fact they are being deliberately manipulative and telling lies to you. If you confront them with your suspicions they may express indignation or hurt that you could think such a thing of them. This is another way they try to manipulate you into feeling guilty for even having any suspicions and they try to throw you off the scent. If you have any doubt about someone, and you think you may be being manipulated, then check things out with someone you can really trust.”

Langaster-James advises the following to anyone who thinks they might be a victim of gaslighting: "If you think something may be happening to you or someone is trying to manipulate your perceptions or make you doubt your own mind, check things out with someone you know you can really trust to tell you the truth.

“Also, start making notes of everything that happens. It’s possible that someone is deliberately trying to control your perceptions of things to make you question yourself. You can also try deliberately setting things up to test whether someone is manipulating you, and if you suspect that all is not well, seek help from a professional, someone who understands psychological abuse. Telling others what’s going on and seeking support is the best way to protect yourself.”

Unsane is out now, distributed by 20th Century Fox.

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