In the modern age, technology has given us access to numerous types of media- television shows, movies, books, news stories and more. Besides being a form of entertainment, media has somewhat become a source of knowledge for numerous topics. Mental health, a major facet of the average human, is one of those topics.
Public acknowledgement of mental health has only been around for about 100 years, when the National Mental Health Association (now called Mental Health America,) was founded to increase awareness of mental health and provide help to those who needed it. In the 1940s, the National Mental Health Act created the National Institute for Mental Health, a government agency that funds research and offers health services. Since then, continuing research has led to the identification and classification of more than 200 mental illnesses and the development of proper treatment options. Yet when it comes to the media, there are still portrayals that are both negative and positive.
One common misrepresentation in the media is that anyone who has a mental illness is dangerous and unpredictable. Popular television shows like Criminal Minds and Law & Order center on hunting for the perpetrator of crimes. Most of these suspects are portrayed as unstable individuals, when statistics show that only 3 to 5 percent of violence is actually linked to mental illness. These shows also depict suspects as being psychopaths or sociopaths, implying that people who have a mental illness must be one. Like mentioned before, there are more than 200 mental illnesses that are different in their own ways.
The news media sometimes contributes to the violent behavior belief, emphasizing tragedies where the suspect is quickly assumed to have something wrong with them mentally. Social media in particular gives the public a platform to post their opinions and assumptions about the person’s background. The cause of mental health is usually thought to be something a person is born with. While research exists that connects mental health with hereditary in families, there are other causes. They can be a traumatic experience, a difficult childhood or a physical injury. Every case is different and it’s important not to assume to know what happened in the individual’s life.
Not all media portrays mental health inaccurately. Sometimes a person involved in a project has had a personal experience with the topic. One example is the 2012 film Silver Linings Playbook. The director and screenwriter, David O. Russell, has a son who has bipolar disorder. The two main characters in the movie, played by Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, have bipolar disorder and borderline personality disorder. Though the movie is based on the novel by Matthew Quick, Russell had his own experiences to draw on in adapting the book as a realistic portrayal of how mental health can affect not just one person, but the people around them. The film is one of the few in the past several that centers on a person with mental illness.
Turning to literature, John Green, a popular young adult author, recently described his struggles with anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder from the time he was young. He incorporated his experiences into the main character of Aza in his latest novel, Turtles All the Way Down. The plot of the novel centers on a mystery, but Aza’s anxiety and OCD make it difficult for her to concentrate on her own life. Green didn’t sugarcoat how difficult it can be to function in the world when you constantly have “a spiral of thoughts.”
Mental health continues to be a topic of conversation, but taking the time to thoroughly research and depict it in an accurate way can help improve the public’s understanding of it.