The Portrayal of Mental Illness in the Media
Mental illness is a fairly new conversation for our society as it wasn't something that was acknowledged as an illness until the 50's or 60's and even then it was never talked about. The public conversation likely didn't start until sometime in the 80's and 90's as it became more widely recognized, but still it was rare. Perhaps I've become more aware of it since my diagnosis or maybe it really has been only the last 10 or 20 years that people are talking freely and more openly about mental illness and trying to educate the general public to end the stigma around it.
Using the Media for Good
Primarily, I feel like the media would be a great way of helping to bring awareness and information to the public but so often I feel like they get it completely wrong and are only adding to the stigma surrounding mental illness. My first thought when starting to research and write this article was pharmaceutical commercials and how poorly they portray those who are affected by depression and other mental illnesses. Instead of educating people that those around them could be suffering in silence, or that those who are diagnosed can still be functioning members of society who sometimes struggle with illness, we are often portrayed as being drab and single. It's often women who are old and tired looking, dressed in shabby clothes and ignoring their life. Yes, sometimes this is what depression feels like. Yes, this might be a way to over dramatize it for the sake of a 30 second explanation of the illness but is that really who we are?! Is this really the most accurate and appropriate way we can inform people of the medications and help that is available to them?
Media Getting it Right, and Wrong
That being said there are causes and commercials that do get it right. My favourite that I've seen is the most recent campaign for Bell Canada's "Bell Let's Talk Day". It focuses on education and changing your language to help end the stigma. It encourages people to speak up and be kind when they understand how hard it can be for those who are suffering. This is a cause that consciously and literally starts a conversation and I think they did an incredible job of catching the attention of the audience and properly delivering the facts.
When it comes to entertainment news and gossip media there are so many outlets that are guilty of graphically oversaturating the news feeds whenever a celebrity shows signs of mental illness or loses the battle with their suffering and ends their life or overdoses because of substance abuse problems. Not only do I find it incredibly inappropriate the way they focus on the details of the death or mental breakdown, but also I feel like there are much more important things that could come from it. Awareness, foundations, organizations, and hotlines could be highlighted during these times but instead the media displays an incredible insensitivity by bombarding us with horrific details.
When Britney Spears or Amanda Bynes had their breakdowns, instead of offering support or using it as a moment of education and awareness, it seemed like the whole world was laughing at their suffering and waiting on the edge of their seats for the next "crazy" thing they would do. It's seen more as a cry for attention than an illness that needs to be addressed. I feel like the emotion and responses from the public would change dramatically with a change in how the media delivered the information.
Next: social media and the death of Robin Williams.