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Mental Health

The Portrayal of Mental Health in The Media

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Mental health is more important in today’s world than ever before courtesy of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. With many Americans forced to remain home, TV and/or online media consumption has increased at a rate never seen before. 

With the new normal of binge-watching movies and television shows, it has become quite obvious that the portrayal of mental health in the media is grossly exaggerated. Many falsehoods have led to the increased negative stigma of the various illnesses associated with poor mental health.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is essentially our psychological, emotional, and social welfare. Mental health not only affects how we feel but also how we think and act. Mental health regulates our ability to deal with stress, relate to our family, friends, co-workers, and most importantly the types of choices we make in life; and with both positive and negative effects. 

Maintaining positive mental health is key from our early development up until the time we are ready to pass on to the afterlife or beyond. The media portrayal of what is mental health is often skewed and consistently lends to negative stigmas which only furthers the decline of one’s feelings, thoughts, and actions.  

Different types of mental health disorders include but are not limited to:

  • Anxiety – Those affected with anxiety react to certain situations or items with fear and panic. Physical symptoms of anxiety include increased heart rate, sweating, difficulty breathing, shaking, and feeling weak or tired. 
  • Mood Disorders – Mood disorders manifest continuous ups and downs with intense emotions, rapid thoughts, and sometimes harmful behavior. 
  • Psychosis – This type of mental illness leads to a distorted sense of thought and being. Often those affected will hallucinate and become delusional about “reality”. 
  • Personality Disorders – This type of disorder causes those affected to not function as normal within society. They are often found to have extreme and problematic personalities and traits causing stress and persistent problems in school, work, and/or home life. 
  • PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder develops because of a traumatic or scary event(s) often caused by a death, natural disaster, extreme conflicts (war),  physical or sexual abuse. 
  • Eating Disorders – This type of mental illness affects the relationship with food and overall negative body image and weight. 
  • OCD – Obsessive-compulsive disorder persists in those affected with the disease with fears and thoughts that lead to the continuous performance of routines and ritualistic behavior. ds.

Mental Health in TV and the Media: The Real Fake News

Mental health in television shows is rarely if ever, portrayed as anything but negative and to the extreme. Reality TV shows are just one example of how “reality” is skewed with an obvious acceptance of negative behaviors, false thoughts, and extreme emotions. From constant conflicts, excessive drinking, and poor body image to just name a few. This kind of television often leads their audience into admiring these types of characters and their crazy lifestyles. Lots of these shows and their themes can have negative effects on the cast members, production crew, and their intended audiences. These shows highlight and even celebrate poor mental health which can distress others who are affected by these common disorders. 

Local and national news broadcasts can be just as harmful in the portrayal of mental health as reality TV. As we have seen with the constant unrest with recent elections and the various social justice movements, those affected with poor mental health are often portrayed as extremists or as “crazy”. This is not only dismissive of their beliefs and causes, but also harmful by not highlighting the need to focus more on positive mental health rather than the side effects which manifest these types of extreme behaviors. 

Mental Health in Films: A Distorted Past

Mental health on the big screen also faces the same negative challenges that reality television shows and news broadcasts do. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” is considered to be one of the greatest films ever made, however, it is one of the most inaccurate portrayals of the real afflictions of mental health and its many disorders.

In 1975 it was a common theme in films like these to show extreme and unproven treatments for those affected with mental health issues like electroshock and psychotherapies like lobotomies. These procedures were not only ineffective but they also lent to the idea that there was a simple “fix” to someone’s mental health decline rather than a deeper look into the root of the problem. 

Thankfully, with the internet and the advancement of modern medicine and proven treatments, the film today has the opportunity to redeem itself and shine a light on the less extreme approaches of treatment for those who suffer from poor mental health. 

Culture and Mental Health

According to various medical surveys and reports, minorities are far less likely to seek mental health treatment here in the United States of America. Culture can play a large role in whether or not someone seeks out mental health treatment.  

Some ways that culture can affect mental health include but are not limited to:  

  • Stigma – For many cultures, there is a stigma surrounding mental health. Poor mental health and disorders are often considered to be a sign of weakness. 
  • Symptoms and Diagnosis – Culture plays a large role in how those affected with poor mental health express themselves when they are amidst the battles of depression, anxiety, or other forms of poor mental health. 
  • Community – Culture often determines how much emotional support someone might receive from his or her community. Since there is so much stigma associated with mental health issues, it often extends to family support as well since the families do not want the stigma placed upon them as well as the one directly affected.

Mental Health Today: A More Positive Portrayal in the Media

With the ongoing pandemic and television, film, and media consumption on the rise feeding into the negative side effects of poor mental health, there has been a growing list of TV shows and films that “attempt” to portray mental health issues more accurately. These TV shows and films do this by using humor, real-life situations like conflicts, and traumatic situations to shine the light on the commonality of mental health issues and disorders.

Some TV shows that lend to a more positive portrayal of mental health struggles include but are not limited to:

  1. This Is Us – An emotional TV drama that demonstrates how the complex lives of the Pearson family converge in unanticipated ways. The show remains focused on dealing with anxiety and the ways the characters cope with this side effect of mental illness. 
  2. Supernatural – A fictional TV drama that focuses on the Winchester brothers as they hunt supernatural monsters, demons, and ghosts. The show gains its notoriety for accurately portraying battles with anxiety and depression.
  3. BoJack Horseman – An animated TV series that follows the no longer relevant ex-TV star, BoJack whilst he struggles with professional and personal relationships.
  4. Parks And Recreation – A fictional TV comedy that is best known for its comical characters whilst positively depicting the battles of depression through the character, Chris Traeger.
  5. Shameless – A TV comedy-drama that focuses on the life of Frank Gallagher, a single father of six children. The series is celebrated within the mental health community for its more accurate depiction of bipolar disorder

Some Films that lend to a more positive portrayal of mental health struggles include but are not limited to:

  1. A Beautiful Mind – A movie based on a true story of the life of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a mathematical savant who battled schizophrenia. The movie highlighted the many challenges John faced like paranoia and delusions that impacted his family life and career. 
  2. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? – A fictional movie about a young Gilbert Grape in a tiny town in Iowa whilst taking care of his morbidly obese mother and autistic younger brother. This movie is hailed for its accurate portrayal of an eating disorder.
  3. Girl, Interrupted – A fictional movie about the character of Susanna, who suffers from a borderline personality disorder and follows her as she is admitted into a mental hospital and meets other young women who are both like her and completely unlike her. 
  4. Black Swan – A dark, psychological thriller of the portrayal of the warped and tortured mind of Nina Sayers. Nina suffers from many mental health issues due to the immense pressure of being a professional ballerina. 
  5. Rain Man – A drama-filled comedy that follows the lives of two brothers, Charlie and Raymond Babbitt. Charlie is an autistic savant and the film gained notoriety for being the first to bring autism into the public eye.

Mental Health & the Media: Time for a Change

More now than ever there must be a more accurate portrayal of mental health in TV, film, and online or streaming media. By depicting real-life stories and struggles of the battles of poor mental health can not only help people to recognize that treatment may be necessary, but it also removes the stigma previously commonly associated with these diseases. This will only further assist those affected by mental health disorders to feel included and hopefully seek out the treatment that they so often desperately need.

Mental Health: No More Fake News

Thankfully treatments for mental health are expanding and are becoming more tailored to meet the needs of all individuals battling these illnesses. 

Some mental health treatments available include but are not limited to:

  • Individual psychotherapy– Individual psychotherapy is a form of mental health treatment for individuals who talk with a psychotherapist. 
  • Group therapy– Group therapy is a counseling session where individuals are grouped with others dealing with similar struggles while being supervised by a licensed therapist. 
  • Family therapy– Family therapy is a psychotherapy that focuses on building and maintaining positive family relationships. 
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy– CBT is a psychotherapy that is structured with a psychotherapist. CBT allows patients to become aware of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in an attempt to change the negative outcome. 
  • Equine therapy– Equine therapy involves horses during therapy to assist with improving patients’ mental health.
  • Dialectical behavioral therapy– The DBT method focuses on changing negative behaviors, developing new coping skills, whilst improving communication.
  • Holistic healing– Holistic healing focuses on treating the whole patient rather than just the illness. It does so by identifying and developing mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual issues within their mind, body, and soul.
  • Meditation– Meditation is a holistic practice where individuals focus and calm the mind bringing relief from an array of mental health issues. 
  • Art therapy– Art therapy provides many therapeutic benefits by allowing the individual to express themselves without words.
  • Music therapy– Music therapy also provides many therapeutic benefits by allowing the individual to express themselves without words. 

Interested in Improving Your Mental Health?

Are you interested in easing into a mental health treatment program or complementing traditional treatments with something fun, effective, and non-intrusive? The trained staff at Montare Behavioral Health is excited to help you improve your mental health and unlock your creativity and your path to wellness in the process! Give mental health therapy at Montare Behavioral Health a try today!