May – How the Media Portrays Mental Illness

May – How the Media Portrays Mental Illness

May Mental Health Discussion

How the Media Portrays Mental Illness

Hello all! Welcome to my May Mental Health Discussion. This month’s idea was given to me by my friend Cait (Thanks Cait!) and I couldn’t be more excited to discuss this topic. This month’s blog post will be more of an opinion piece rather than advice or scientific fact, so let’s jump right in!

My earliest memory of seeing mental illness in the media was watching Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 ‘Psycho’, which to this day is still one of my favorite films. I remember thinking “wow, this guy is crazy!”. Now, I was a silly 12 year old at the time, not realizing that this portrayal of mental illness was the extreme, so bare with me. I automatically

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assumed anyone suffering from mental illness was also this ill. In reality, MOST mentally ill humans are not in this same kind of state that Norman Bates was. Most people can stay in their right mind and not deal with this severe of a mental episode. There are the unfortunate ones who deal with disassociation, hallucinations, multiple identities/misidentify, etc. (Raise yo hand if you’re like me!). However, most people suffering from a mental disorder do not have these sorts of issues. I did not realize this until I was about 15 or 16 years old, when I first started going to therapy. Going to therapy and speaking to a professional, I came to realize that I was mentally ill. But I did not relate at that time to Norman Bates. I began to question everything! So, I did my research and started to understand that mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes.

Now, fast forward to today – I am an advocate for mental health. And I DO NOT like the way that mental illness is portrayed in the media (for the most part; there are always exceptions). The majority of cases, I see mental health patients portrayed as absolutely batshit insane. And this makes me so mad! A lot of the people who suffer from mental illness, you wouldn’t really notice until you get to really know them. Even then, you may just notice a few oddities, nothing overly prominent. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone tell me, “you don’t seem sick”. While this is an innocent enough thing to say, the way it makes people such as myself feel is not great. It almost belittles the struggles that we go through. But it’s hard to fault people for this, as I really do blame the media for this misconception. The media only wants to show people at their worst and lowest point – they like the dramatic. What you see isn’t generally real. It’s not relatable to people like me.

One of my biggest pet peeve’s is (obviously) how bipolar disorder tends to be portrayed. We all have had people refer to something/someone as “bipolar”. Now, usually when this is the case, they are referring to the weather changing dramatically in a short time frame or someone who’s anger goes from 0 to 100 in a second. Because of the media, people have generalized bipolar as someone who has an issue with anger – they will be happy go lucky one moment and the next, they’re yelling and screaming at you. This could not be further from the truth. “He’s so bipolar” has become way too common of a thing (for those of you who do not understand bipolar disorder, please refer to my blog post about educating on bipolar). I think the first time I had bipolar disorder betrayed in a way that I actually felt/understood it was when I read All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven last year. For the first time, it felt like reading about my own life. So while I am irritated with how mental illnesses come across, there are exceptions to every rule.

I’ve noticed a theme when it comes to mental illness in the media, and it’s that almost every time there is someone who is mentally ill, they end up in a psych ward. This enrages me to no end and here’s why. First off, as I just explained, a lot of mentally ill humans are able to maintain and manage all on their own with the help of medication and therapy. It is a very extreme case that someone ends up in a psych ward but the media acts like that’s the go-to when it comes to treating mental disorders. Another reason is that it’s completely inaccurate. Anyone who suffers

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with their mental health can tell you how messed up the health care system is. Nobody takes your concerns seriously and it takes a lot for people to even agree to put you on medication for anything. Nevermind going to a hospital and begging for help during a psychotic episode. As someone who experiences these episodes, I have never been admitted to the hospital for it. I have gone through emergency and “been treated”, but no doctors have seemed concerned over my suicidal episodes and usually send me home. So to say that the first time someone reaches out for help they end up being forced into a psych ward involuntarily is very unlikely.

The reality is, you might not be able to tell what’s going on in someones head. Even the most severe cases, you may never know what someone is going through. We become experts at hiding it honestly. We like to hide the struggles because it makes us feel like a burden to reach out and show our vulnerability. So before you get any “education” through the media, make sure it’s accurate. It’s better to educate yourself by doing your research through accredited sites or asking someone who personally goes through it (I’m an open book, ask me anything!).

I am extremely hopeful that the more we try and end the stigma and have these conversations, the more accurate portrayals will become and the more informed people will be.

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