Mental Health and The Media
Ben Pechey is back with their ‘Is this a touchy subject?’ series, discussing how the media needs to do better
Mental health is something that is a constant in our lives, and the state of it is not the same for all. We will all go on the rollercoaster of life, facing the inevitable ups and downs. There is no definitive guide book telling us how to deal with our mental health, and yet in society, we are expected to be constantly coping and adjusting. When we cannot adjust and show behaviour that *shockingly* sits outside of the range of normal behaviours, the stigma of mental health comes into play.
I am sure it will come as no surprise to you that in 2019 that there is still so much stigma surrounding mental health. As is so often in these situations I think of the media that surrounds us, and the startling lack of representation of normal mental health. I hear you thinking “normal mental health”, what on earth is that? I mean the cycles of ups and downs we all go through. All we ever see is the extremes, either sectioning and institutionalising, or the other representation of characters and people who can brush things off with a stiff upper lip. There is no representation of the many levels between these two extremes. Where are the characters that are suffering from anxiety to the point where they cannot make decisions? Where are the characters who have to resign from jobs because they cannot seem function day to day? Where is the representation of what stress does to people, the sleepless nights, the mood swings? Where are the realistic and relatable issues that so many of us face?
One of the hardest things about suffering with mental health is that you feel so alone. From personal experience, I know that trying to explain how you feel is near impossible, so you end up keeping it to yourself. Just like when we call for diversity to help more people feel accepted, showing mental health in all forms will help erase the stigma that still exits, as well as helping people who struggle to try and explain what they are going through. It will also help open up more channels of help for those who need it but feel unable to access it. The way you get treated differently when you are struggling with mental health as opposed to a physical condition is because, for people who have never experienced mental health issues, their only references are the extremes presented by the media. With this lack of understanding, their response and subsequent change of behaviour around you can can as odd as a doctor offering a plaster for a headache.
Yet in reality, they are not to blame, over the past 2 decades I cannot think of a single programme or film that has depicted a realistic depiction of mental health. So there are no reference points for most peoples issues, and when there are, all too often they get it wrong. The effects of which can have far reaching consequences. One examples of this is within Sex and the City, and for all its cultural impact, has had a harmful hand to play in the lack of reasonable mental health depiction. In Season 6, episode 1, Charlotte discovers that she is pregnant. This comes after years of trying and failing. She subsequently miscarries and is deeply affected by this. Left like this you could see this as a realistic representation of how a serious event like a miscarriage could affect a person’s mental health. However, the issue with this depiction lies in the fact that within a few days and one Elizabeth Taylor documentary, Charlotte forgot all her grief, and the event was never mentioned again. This may seem like a very small subplot to pick apart, but it would have given many people reason to believe that a miscarriage is something to bounce back from relatively quickly. When in fact, this is an event that can stay with people for the rest of their lives. T
Media has never played such a vital role in our lives, and now we consume more and more with catch up tv, streaming, as well as traditional DVD sales. In 2019, we have a right to entertainment that tackles the issues we all face and that doesn’t misinform those who are naive, comfort those who have gone through similar issues, and highlight the need for less harmful approaches to the way mental health is dealt with today. Whilst I am aware that media is not the only way we can learn about mental health issues, it is the easiest and least intrusive way of bringing education, understanding and knowledge to an audience. It is not too much to ask that the things we watch have an equal and relevant distribution of relatable human reactions to life. In increasing the quota of relatable characters suffering in various ways, we will positively impact those of us suffering with mental health and move the unnecessary stigma that surrounds these issues.