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Teaching and Learning in Psychiatry through Films and Drama Series

20 Apr 2022

Mental health issues are increasingly common these days, and this has been portrayed in films and drama series as well. The IMU community was enlightened on the use of films in psychiatry by Dr Nicholas Pang Tze Ping, a Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) and a practising psychiatrist who has a keen interest in medicine and the humanities. He is also the Deputy Director of Clinical Services at Hospital Universiti Malaysia Sabah (HUMS)

The one-hour webinar titled Films in Psychiatry – A Marriage of Art and Science was organised by the IMU Centre for Bioethics and Humanities on 2 March 2022.

It started with Dr Nicholas speaking about the introduction of six different films that illustrated six different psychiatric conditions in the psychiatry curriculum at UMS.

Through the introduction of these films, he mentioned that the faculty of the programme was able to overcome the difficulties in getting students to see patients across the spectrum. Besides, these films also served as informal case studies for learning purposes as they were used to help students understand the longitudinal biopsychosocial picture of a patient.

Apart from the use of films, Dr Nicholas also spoke about the introduction of TV drama series as case studies. Since TV drama series extend over a longer period compared to films, they allow students to see the backstory, and the interaction between characters as the plot progresses over time. To illustrate, he talked about a ten-episode miniseries titled Maniac that was used for a case study analysis on the two characters who suffer from borderline personality disorder and schizophrenia respectively.

Students were trained to identify the mental state changes in the character and were exposed to the intense stigma experienced by the characters. By the end of this activity, students were able to appreciate and observe the high level of psychological distress in the schizophrenic character.

Dr Nicholas gave examples by analysing the character with schizophrenia and further emphasized that medication is not the only cure for patients as it only serves to treat the symptoms but not the underlying cause of the psychiatric condition.

Dr Nicholas also shared on the TV drama series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which was researched and produced with the advice and affirmation of psychiatrists and psychiatry doctors. For this series, he highlighted the key criteria of borderline personality disorder in the female character, which is often confused with bipolar disorder as they both share similar symptoms. In this regard, he pointed out that these two are separate mental conditions with different symptoms.

On a final note, Dr Nicholas emphasized the significance of films in psychiatry as it utilizes stories for a purpose. He remarked that in conventional medical schools that use cross-sectional training, students will only learn to diagnose patients by looking at their symptoms. However, by using films or drama series in psychiatry, students will not only be able to pick up the diagnosis but also find modifiable risk factors that they can change. As such, by reflecting on the productions that they have watched, students will understand and learn that psychiatry is not a set of symptoms but a story that requires processing. All things considered, he commented that this approach is especially beneficial during lockdowns or whenever there is a scarcity of patients as it can be used as an auxiliary purpose for teaching and learning. For more information contact us at [email protected] or visit us at

Written by Carol Chin Koon Poh, Lecturer, Centre for Bioethics and Humanities

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