- Research reveals the negative impact of incorrect media portrayal of mental health.
- Experts warn how such portrayals fuel mental health stigmatization and misinformation.
Mental health is more important in today’s world. And the media has a powerful role to play in shaping public perception and understanding of mental health and mental healthcare.
Unfortunately, most portrayals of mental health in media and pop culture tend to be inaccurate, thereby contributing to negative stereotypes and beliefs about people with mental illness.
Mental Health In Films
The portrayal of mental illness in film is typical—with mental health disorders being used as a broader metaphor for societal issues or personal struggles and a plot device to create dramatic effect and tension.
Certain cinematic works also directly address mental illness, its impact on individuals and their families, and the process of seeking help for mental health challenges (like therapy, hospitalization, and medication). However, frequently such films fall short of leaving a mark.
For instance, iconic films like Psycho (1960) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) have run into hot waters over the years for the prejudiced portrayal of people with mental illness as “dangerous” and “violent”.
Recently, Joker (2019) was criticized for its perceived attack on therapy and dismissal of the mentally ill as “hypersensitive”, “tragic”, and “hopeless”.
In contrast, films like Good Will Hunting (1997), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), Black Swan (2010), The Perks of Being a Wallflower (2012), and Spencer (2021) have gained ground for more nuanced and positive portrayals of mental health conditions and associated symptoms like isolation, memory problems, etc.
Portrayal Of Mental Health On TV
Fictional and non-fictional series broadcasted over television or streaming platforms also show a significant degree of mental health awareness. Netflix’s Fleabag (2016), 13 Reasons Why (2017), Midnight Club (2022), and Wednesday (2022) have gained critical acclaim for the positive portrayal of mental health issues.
Several celebrities like Selena Gomez, Lady Gaga, and Prince Harry have also come out with biographical documentaries that sensitively chronicle their mental health struggles against depression, eating disorders, body dysmorphic disorder, anxiety, and so forth.
Sadly, critics are yet to say the same for reality TV. It is skewed with the glorification of negative and maladaptive behavior, emotional dysfunction, unhealthy lifestyles, and constant conflict. This kind of television often leads their audience into admiring behavioral and thought patterns that are harmful to mental health.
News networks also degenerate the importance of mental health into occasional and half-hearted mentions. They minimize the broadcasting of important issues like mental health policies, new treatment methods, mental health programs, etc.
This decreases the potential of news outlets when it comes to spreading mental health awareness and developing conversations around mental health.
Social Media Portrayal Of Mental Health
Social media has become an important platform for discussing and sharing information about mental health. While social media can be a valuable resource for individuals seeking support and information, it can also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and misinformation about mental health.
Studies reveal that social media can be an effective platform for individuals to share their personal stories and experiences with mental health challenges.
This can be empowering and help reduce stigma. It can also be a powerful tool for promoting mental health awareness and making psychiatric resources accessible to those in need.
However, mental health and social media are sometimes inversely related. Social media trends like “heroin chic bodies”, glitzy influencer culture, trolling, and cyberbullying can trigger eating disorders, body image issues, compulsive buying disorder, social media addiction, low self-esteem, self-harm tendencies, and suicidality.
Mental health can also be the subject of memes and jokes on social media, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and trivializing the seriousness around it in the process. In some cases, it can be a gamut of misinformation, providing inaccurate information about causes, treatments, and symptoms.
Positive Vs Negative Portrayal Of Mental Illness In The Media
The media portrayal of mental health is endless and its consumption considerably sways the public perception of mental wellness. Therefore, it is mandatory to distinguish between negative and positive portrayals of mental illness in the media.
For instance, understanding which internet challenge is harmful to mental health and which is not can help you navigate social media platforms more healthily.
In fact, while using social media, we should strive to use it in a way that promotes understanding, support, and accurate information about mental health challenges.
By doing so, we can make the proper use of media in reducing the harmful effects of stigma and discrimination, and create a more supportive environment for people with mental health conditions.