Updated: Apr 4
Thanks to social media and pop culture, mental health and different kinds of mental illnesses are being brought to light. More people are now relatively more aware of mental health and illnesses; however, their portrayal in media may not always be the most accurate and fall into the trap of misinterpretation and misrepresentation. Thus, people sometimes self-diagnose as they associate their observations of themselves with what they see on their screens.
While media portrayal of mental illnesses may aid in raising awareness and putting a human face on a name, we must remain wary of inaccurate, exaggerated, and even fictional representations (for the sake of the storyline) of mental health as it adds to the stigma. Link and Cullen (1986) found that people who have no personal experience of engaging or encountering people with mental illnesses turn and rely on media for their understanding and perceptions of people with mental illnesses. This couldn't be any more true than in today's digital age, but as we all know, the media is prone to misinformation and disinformation; thus, we should always take everything with a grain of salt, fact check, and look for credible sources.
When done in a correct, responsible, and accurate way, however, the portrayal of mental health and illnesses in the media could prove to be beneficial to the general public. Here are some of the benefits of utilizing media to report mental health and illnesses as studied by Srivastava et al. (2018):
Humanize mental illness
One benefit of portraying mental illness in the media is that it humanizes mental illnesses; that is, it puts a human face on the illness. This aids in the enlightenment of people that mental health and illnesses are real. It also promotes familiarity, making mental illnesses as common as the common cold. Not only that, but it educates people that anyone can have mental illnesses.
Offer hope to people with mental disorders
When people read about or watch stories about people who have been diagnosed with mental disorders and were able to recover and be treated from them, it provides people with mental disorders hope that they too could get better. People would see that others have the same disorder and would realize that they could be treated and do not have to live with the disorder forever. They would also realize that they are not alone and that there are people willing to help them get through their condition.
Similarly, media portrayal of mental health and illnesses encourages help-seeking as people would see the importance of early recognition and treatment of mental illness. People would come to know that mental illnesses, like most other diseases, are amenable to treatment. This would then inspire people and their loved ones to research mental health services and providers and encourage people in distress not to delay seeking help.
Provide accurate information about mental illness
Last but definitely not least, media portrayal of mental health and illness, when done in the right way, could reach out to many people, raise awareness, and educate them on the subject matter. Providing factual and accurate information about mental disorders from reliable resource persons allows the people to have a better understanding and debunk the myths and preconceived stereotypes. People would learn that mental illness covers a wide range of symptoms, conditions, and effects on people's lives, so it's not right to self-diagnose or diagnose others if you are not a mental health professional.
With all that being said, may we strive to raise awareness and education through accurate and reliable information?
Link, B., & Cullen, F. (1986). Contact with the Mentally Ill and Perceptions of How Dangerous They Are. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 27(4), 289-302. doi:10.2307/2136945
Srivastava, K., Chaudhury, S., Bhat, P. S., & Mujawar, S. (2018). Media and mental health. Industrial psychiatry journal, 27(1), 1-5. https://doi.org/10.4103/ipj.ipj_73_18