The Mental Illness Plot May Have Taken Over TV

Mental illness is more prominent on tv now than ever, from eating disorders to alcoholism and anxiety. Do you think this is a bad or good thing?

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TV Shows and movies often mimic issues going on in the real world, unless it is a period piece. We can often tune in to watch a TV show or movie and can get a glimpse of what life was like, or what was occurring in the world at that moment in time.

Currently, many shows have a particular topic in common: mental health. It is an important topic today and seeing people come forward has been a remarkable triumph. Therefore, it is not a surprise to see our favorite shows take on topics regarding mental health issues.

For example, “This Is Us” does a phenomenal job portraying binge eating, alcoholism, panic disorder, depression, and weight issues that affect one’s mental health, in a cross between past and present. They reflect on all issues going back and forth from past to present, still portraying much of the similar issues in both time periods, proving the issues at hand aren’t anything new.

“Shameless” features a mother and son who both have bipolar disorder, and a son and father who have alcoholism issues, and the challenges it comes with. The last season of “The Handmaid’ Tale” showed a variety of responses to trauma, sexual assault, and peri – and postpartum mood disorders. “13 Reasons Why” portrays suicide, mental issues resulting in bullying, school violence, and the effects of it, among other things.

Basically, a lot of shows are portraying something regarding or revolving around mental health.

While all television shows attempt to remove the disgracefulness that is often associated with mental illness, it only works if the depiction is accurate. In most cases, the stories are more likely to be wildly wrong or inaccurate. People become upset when the representation is misleading, including psychiatrists.

Psychiatrist Jessica A. Gold expressed her frustration from the false depiction in recently interview with InStyle Magazine. She shares that the frustration comes from knowing that we tend to learn about ourselves and our world through entertainment. In a study published in 2016 in the journal “Social Work in Mental Health,” it stated that a quarter of college students reported TV and film as their primary source of education on mental illness. In 2014, 25 percent of young adults in California said they would be unwilling to move next door to someone with mental illness. Perhaps this is because they’re used to seeing such people portrayed as violent loose cannons (instead of, say, just like their current next-door neighbor), Gold said.

According to InStyle, following the release of “13 Reasons Why,” internet searches for “how to commit suicide” jumped to 26% higher than what normally would have been expected at the same time, and some deaths were labeled “copycats.” In contrast, searches for suicide prevention” and “suicide hotline number” also rose by 23% and 21%, according to research into Google data. The show touched on subjects but after every episode urged you to seek help if needed. Combined with the data, we can only hope the show was able to reach people it normally wouldn’t have. Although, it also proves how important it is to be as accurate when portraying such serious subjects.

The problem can be that many shows portray issues in a different light, from a different view. For instance, one show can portray depression in one way and another show in another way. How can one predict if both are wrong, if depression can occur in everyone differently? How can we determine how accurate a show can be? The concern is that many can tune in to a show and start comparing their own situation to it.

Gold offers 15 examples from this past year that had her screaming at her TV for inaccuracy. After all, she is a psychiatrist, so her frustrations may stem far more than any other non-psychiatrist would. Although, even non-psychiatrists have gone on to criticize a show for its inaccuracy or bash it for doing so, so far as to try to get it pulled off the air. Such was the case for “13 Reasons Why,” but the viewership numbers proved it was one of Netflix’s most watched shows.

Too much of something can also be a bad thing, and that includes subjects discussed repeatedly on television. Although, one can argue that it can lead to different portrayals of the same subject and therefore, expand on the different angles, which can be a positive thing. Take for example Netflix’s “Atypical,” which is a coming-of age series that focuses on teenage Sam Gardner, who is on the Autism Spectrum and has decided he is ready to find romance. Gardner has the typical characteristics that are often associated with Autism, which can be misleading because it is called a spectrum for a reason, because no two are alike. Some can and have criticized it for being misleading, including Autism groups, but how can a show be so accurate when symptoms and characteristics can vary? However, in this case, the show took the feedback from season one, and has received praise by those same people in season two.

While not everyone will be happy with the accuracy of storylines, should we just be glad that issues like mental health are being discussed in many ways? Or can there be such a thing as too much? Do you like seeing mental illness being discussed on your favorite shows? Read the full story on InStyle and read Gold’s 15 examples of inaccuracies here.

Here’s how people on the Zip app are weighing in on this all over the country!

Mental illness is more prominent on tv now than ever, from eating disorders to alcoholism and anxiety. Do you think this is a bad or good thing?

53% Bad, inaccurate
47% Good, destigmatizing
58% Bad, inaccurate
42% Good, destigmatizing
44% Bad, inaccurate
56% Good, destigmatizing

Bad, inaccurate

Good, destigmatizing

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