She does in the movie Frankie and Alice. In fact, Berry plays the role of a 1970s go-go dancer who suffers (literally) from the very controversial mental illness called Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), aka Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD).
You may remember the very popular, if frightening, movie Sybil, in which Sally Fields was cast in a similar role. Even skeptics could better understand how the psyche might be shattered by the horrors Sybil experienced in her lifetime. (I experienced mild secondary trauma from some of those scenes.) Like Sybil, Frankie and Alice offer viewers an inside look at a much misunderstood form of mental illness. Apparently, the moviealsohas what it takes to be a box office success, as Berry was nominated for a Golden Globe in 2011 for her role.
Berry was interviewed about the movie she starred in and produced by staff from NAMI, The National Alliance on Mental Illness. She talked about spending time with Frankie Murdoch, whose true story is portrayed in the movie. Among other things, Berry says that she was moved and inspired by both Frankie’s struggles and her will to survive. Berry stated that she read transcripts of the therapy sessions with Frankie’s psychiatrist and watched video recordings of other medical providers who worked with people diagnosed with DID to prepare for this role.
DID is a rare mental illness that results most often from early trauma, such as incest, repeated child abuse or sexual assault. People with DID develop distinct personalities referred to as ‘alters’. A person with DID may have as many as 100 or as few as 2 different alters. The alters usually differ greatly; some may be very young and vulnerable (a victim personality), while others may be aggressive or violent (a protector personality).
The alters generally do not remember the other personalities. One indication a person is struggling with DID is lapses of time when they can’t remember things, a form of amnesia. Because of the inability to remember blocks of time, gathering enough information to make a diagnosis can be very difficult, though the loss of time itself is a symptom.
To give you an idea of how rare the disorder is, in over 25 years of practice, I have seen less than 10 cases, to my knowledge. All were females who had experienced extreme, repetitive sexual abuse as children. Providers who work specifically with sexual abuse and trauma (as I did) probably encounter more cases than others in general practice or other specialties.
Alters may have different physical traits. Some people may have an alter who wear glasses, but others who do not. Some may have an alter than is left-handed and others that are right-handed. Some alters may have a gift for singing or painting as one personality, but not the others. It is both fascinating and difficult to fathom.
It is important to say here that many people, if not most, experience some brief experiences of dissociation. If you have ever driven past your exit on the freeway or your mind has slipped away for a brief period of time, you have experienced a form of dissociation. Often people dissociate (when the mind basically ‘leaves the room’) if they are confronted with experiences they cannot face. This happens in therapy a lot by people who do not have DID, but may have developed a habit of dissociation as a form of coping. Those who have DID can lose hours or even days during a dissociative episode. They often report showing up somewhere without any recall of how they got there or why they are there.
Stigma and Mental Illness
Halle Berry stated in the NAMI interview that her interest in Frankie Murdoch and mental illness is also personal. Berry’s mother was a psychiatric nurse at the VA for 30 years, and Berry has mental illness and alcoholism in her family. She reported that she has seen firsthand how difficult it can be to cope with the daily struggle of mental illness and alcoholism, and how hard it is to maintain hope.
Those who have mental illness or know someone with mental illness are usually well aware of the stigma associated with it. People are afraid of mental illness, therefore they often deny, ridicule or shame those who have a mental health condition. After all, if it can happen to you, it can happen to me. This treatment results in stigma – synonymous with disgrace, shame, humiliation – a process that marginalizes those who are labeled and stigmatized.
Hope and Recovery
Films like Frankie and Alice raise awareness of the stigma, struggles, recovery and hopelessness associated with mental illness. Berry says she wants to both entertain and educate the viewer with this movie. Her message is simple, but powerful – with hope there can be recovery. My guess is, with Halle Berry as a spokesperson, those with mental illness may have cause for hope.
"Dissociative Identity Disorder." NAMI. The National Alliance on Mental Illness. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.
Gay, Katrina, and Courtney Reyers. "Exploring DID on the Big Screen." NAMI. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Web. 01 Apr. 2014.