In this modern day and age, technology and media are blooming and growing, which in turn, shapes our lives, perspectives and beliefs. It constantly surrounds us, making it inevitable to not encounter in our everyday lives. This is why it’s so important and socially sensitive.
The media is there to make money, yes, but what is shown on it can be, in the long-term, harmful.
Additionally, this week is Mental Health Awareness week so this is the perfect time to share this post and my thoughts.
A lot of people, especially young people, are ashamed and afraid to speak up about their mental health issues, whether that be OCD, anxiety, depression, etc, due to the stigma and messages, that the media express and also the lack of advocating in the media about these important issues.
Young people are often seen as moody, reckless, careless and selfish people, even though there are reasons for these qualities and emotions. This is often portrayed in TV and film, which reinforces to viewers these negative characteristics are what they possess and are expected of teenagers. People are very quick to judge and jump to the conclusion that these teenagers and young people are antisocial and self-absorbed. I can prove this from my own experiences, where a lot of people, particularly my parents, would perceive me and my mental health issues as selfish and introverted behaviour and I would be constantly scolded for being angry, quiet and emotional. I understand that hormones and puberty play a role in mood swings and unpredictable behaviour but if these symptoms persist, there is likely to be a disorder involved.
- 50% of mental health problems are established by age 14.
- 75% of mental health problems are established by age 24.
- 10% of children and young people (ages 5-16) have clinically diagnosable mental problems yet 70% of them have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age.
Let me repeat that again. 70% of them have not had appropriate interventions at a sufficiently early age. This is partly due to the fact that these issues are shrugged off as being emotional, hormonal and attention-seeking.
Logic, an American rapper, released a song in 2017 called 1-800-273-8255, which is the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This song had so much meaning and honesty within in, unlike other mainstream rap songs, revolving around money, sex and drugs. A line in the song states “they say every life precious but nobody care about mine”. People are constantly preaching about spreading happiness and raising awareness about mental health but how many are willing to sit by a person sobbing and screaming, who are clearly depressed. Even in the media, there are constantly quotes being posted and videos being uploaded about positivity and telling people how to be happy but there are very few teaching people, who aren’t suffering from a mental disorder, how to approach and help someone suffering. Truthfully, people with a mental health problem, for example, depression, are unlikely to read through or watch an entire video about ways to be happy, if they are extremely depressed, because to them, it seems like there is no hope. It would make more sense to reach out to people, particularly on social media, about ways in which you can help in everyday situations.
Logic’s song progresses from representing the emotional and cognitive characteristics of depression, for example, in the lines “I know I’m hurting deep down but can’t show it…and my life don’t even matter” to enforcing unconditional positive regard, for example, in “you got everything to give right now”. Calls to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline actually ended up increasing by 50% after Logic’s song was released.
Young people are pressured and forced to make huge and important decisions at such a young age. They are looked down upon for doing things like consuming drugs, getting bad grades occasionally, being sarcastic and cynical, when there are underlying reasons, in which no one are bothered to listen to. Young people are currently growing up in a generation where working incredibly hard still does not determine a bright future and where young people are seeing mass killings, terrorism and violence, which has become normalised and desensitised to, so that’s another reason for developing a negative view on the world and being cynical. There are assumptions that people suffering with mental illnesses are just going through a “phase” and are told to “just be happy”, as if it’s a choice. The World Health Organization Mortality Database showed that in 90 countries studied, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death amongst young males and third for young females. 9.1% of the 132, 423 deaths of young people, in the countries studied, were due to suicide.
Suicide is the third leading cause of deaths for 15-24 year olds. 24% of high school students have seriously considered attempting suicide and for every student, older teen and young adult, who do kill themselves, 100-200 of their peers attempt suicide, too. More young people died from suicide attempts in 1999 than cancer, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, birth defects, strokes and chronic lung disease combined.
The stigma and discrimination around mental health is a huge factor in leading people to suffer in silence, feeling ashamed and confused and insecure. Men are mainly vulnerable to this as in society and the media, it’s unacceptable for men and boys to cry and be open with their emotions as it’s seen as weak and “feminine” and “gay”. Suicide rates are high amongst men not necessarily because men suffer from mental illnesses more than women but because they’re encouraged to bottle it up more.
Although it’s not the most obvious example, I think The Breakfast Club, although refers to conventional, old-fashioned attitudes, is a film where the male characters do open up their emotions and cry.
There are many shows that have the right depiction of mental health, for example Jessica Jones, which deals with PTSD, and Homeland, which deals with bipolar disorder. However, I want to focus on a TV show, that I love, which touches on the concept of mental health without making the plot, solely, about the struggles and suffering of those with mental health issues, The Walking Dead. Beth presents symptoms of depression and attempts to commit suicide. As her character develops, she slowly recovers and flourishes into a young, strong woman, despite the judgments and negative criticism she got, as well as being treated as a burden. She looks past this and helps others in need and demonstrates her strength, even though she’s perceived as weak from others. She proves there is always a safe way out. Another show, where it’s main plotline isn’t about dealing with a mental disorder but simply has a character with realistic symptoms of OCD, is Scorpion, where one of the main characters, Sylvester, has to deal with his disorder. Shows, like these, do not normalise and glorify mental disorders but show that it’s nothing to be afraid of and nobody is alone.
This is also a good time to discuss Thirteen Reasons Why, in honour of the release of season two on the 18th (tomorrow). Thirteen Reasons Why is a TV show about a teenage girl, Hannah Baker, who commits suicide and leaves behind tapes stating the reasons that led her to her fatal actions. Personally, I think Thirteen Reasons Why was good in showing people how to approach those, who are suffering in silence, and that it’s okay to admit to be going through a dark time and feeling overwhelming emotions and trauma. They raised good points but I don’t think they approached Hannah’s suffering and death well. She did not show persistent symptoms of depression, not to say that what she went through wasn’t traumatic, but it wasn’t reflective of what it’s like to suffer depression. The show, in a way, also glamorizes mental illness, as after her suicide, the show intrigues viewers into the drama and mysteries of her death.
Mental health needs to be taken seriously and society, the media, and platforms need to use their power and advantages to reach out and end the stigma, misrepresentation, lack of representation and discrimination. It may be mental health week but every week should be a week where we are aware and helping those with mental health problems.
If you made it this far in this long post (I apologise for the length), or if you skipped, please share and spread awareness and break the untrue stereotypes and shame surrounding mental disorders and illness, not just among young people, but everyone. And make sure to help others and maintain your own mental wellbeing or seek help if needed.
“The disease comes with a package: shame. When any other part of your body gets sick, you get sympathy.”