Although contemporary television series and films have done a better job of portraying mental illness more truthfully, not all of them have succeeded. This is concerning because fictional stories have the potential to distort the realities of mental illness. The way these fictional characters deal with mental illness and manage it has a direct impact on how real-life people perceive and respond to the disorders.
According to a 2008 research published in the Journal of Health Communications, negative depictions can contribute to the stigma around mental illness, making individuals who need it less inclined to seek assistance.
Mentally ill people are peculiar and dangerous
Many television shows and films do not portray the mentally ill in a good or even sympathetic way. In reality, according to 20-year research published in the Journal of Health Communication, mentally ill individuals are frequently represented as strange and dangerous. It's simple to claim the villain commits atrocities because he's "mad," without delving into a more complex discussion of mental illness.
Mental illness is rather common, and the great majority of people who suffer from it do not react violently or in unusual ways. Many people deal with anxiety, depression, and other illnesses daily while leading "normal" and calm lives.
Mental health professionals are wacky or evil
You've probably seen the wacky therapist character if you've watched enough movies and shows. Consider the fumbling yet endearing psychologist played by Richard Dreyfuss in "What About Bob?" To put it mildly, he is not the most cooperative of professionals. Mental health experts are frequently depicted as buffoons.
But, more sinisterly, the mental health practitioner in a program or film is frequently shown as a villain. Psychiatrists are frequently depicted in the media as crazed, cruel, and unethical, according to a 2008 study published in the Journal of Health Communications. Consider the fact that one of the most notorious villains of all time, Hannibal Lecter, is a psychiatrist. In addition, he's a cannibal.
Psychotherapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists are simply ordinary individuals who desire to assist others in overcoming their difficulties. Presenting these persons as frightening or even demonic might deter people from seeking help.
Self-diagnosed conditions are accurate
This phrase is likely recognizable to even those who do not watch BBC's "Sherlock." "I'm not a psychopath, I'm a highly functional sociopath," Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock Holmes, states at one point in the program.
Sure, that's a nice sentence, but it doesn't always ring true for the character.
She went on to say that Sherlock shows empathy for his employee Molly by apologising for his disrespectful behaviour. Furthermore, people with sociopathy may be dangerous and manipulative, but Sherlock is neither of these things. In other words, even if a character claims to have a certain ailment, this isn't always the reality.
Triggering someone's mental illness is funny
Emma, the character with OCD, has a scene in an early season of "Glee" in which a student vomits on her shoes. It's a typical gross-out scenario. Her reaction, however, is played for laughs, as she takes a series of decontamination baths in the hospital.
Some shows and movies may make viewers devalue mental problems by making light of them. According to a 2011 research published in Health Communications, addressing critical circumstances in a lighthearted manner might cause viewers to take the situation less seriously. (The study in question was about media depictions of risky sexual behaviour, but the general idea is likely to apply: using humour to depict a situation in a certain way can de-emphasize its gravity.)
This isn't to argue that comedic films and television shows shouldn't handle mental health in a lighthearted manner. On the contrary, comedies can and do portray mental illness honestly. "Bojack Horseman" and "You're The Worst," for example, are frequently lauded for their realistic and empathic portrayals of individuals suffering from depression. To put it another way, comedies may tackle the subject of mental illness — and even find humour in it — without making the disease itself the punchline.
Mental illnesses provide superpowers
Mental illness is sometimes depicted as a gift to the character. Consider "Monk's" eponymous investigator and how his obsessive-compulsive condition aided him in solving murders. In actuality, diseases like OCD seldom have a silver lining for those who suffer from them, at least not one that would aid them as much as this.
According to a 2017 research published in the Journal of Health Communication, portraying mental diseases as advantageous to the character is another method of trivialising the condition. There's less motivation for the general public to take mental health treatment or policy decisions seriously if mental diseases are seen as personality quirks that may even assist a person to solve a crime.
Recovery sponsors can do whatever they want
NA meetings, according to several programs, are the new pickup locations. At least, that's how it went down in "Dexter," when the main character entered into a relationship with his Narcotics Anonymous sponsor.
Granted, the plot contained a lot of dishonesty on both characters' parts, and hooking up wasn't the worst thing Dexter or Lila ever did, but it's vital to emphasise that these kinds of relationships are frowned upon.
Narcotics Anonymous World Services specifically advises persons in recovery to find a sponsor who will not provide the possibility of sexual attraction, which might detract from the recovery process. It's crucial to remember that folks who are actively in treatment are generally committed to overcoming their addiction. Because the ultimate purpose is to help the other person, NA, and AA sponsors have several restrictions in place in the real world.
People in recovery always look miserable and unwell
Furthermore, movies and television shows frequently present recovery meetings in a false light. Consider Jesse Pinkman's attendance at a rehabilitation group in "Breaking Bad," when the entire room is filled with people who appear to be in distress. Their demeanors convey anguish and angst.
Although this may be true for certain organisations, the bulk of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, according to Kenneth Anderson of Psychology Today, includes members from all areas of life. Many people who appear to be functional professionals are struggling with hidden yet serious addictions.
Some people can maintain a veneer of normalcy as their addictions devour their life. To put it another way, not everyone who seems ill is suffering from a mental disease or addiction, and not everyone who appears well is free of mental illness or addiction. In nonfiction, the facts of mental health are significantly more complicated.
Even those who have been clean for a long time find solace and support in these gatherings. Leaving them out of the discourse and depiction isn't representative of how rehabilitation works in practice.