For an epidemic that affects 18.2% of the American population, mental illness is a subject that has a surprising amount of ignorance surrounding it. Often when people hear the phrase “mental illness,” they think of the negative stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media. Because of this stigmatization, more than half of Americans with mental illness don’t seek treatment. In this article we will evaluate how the media stigmatizes mental illness, how this stigma affects people experiencing mental illness, and what we can do to work towards de-stigmatization.
Ever since the release of films like The Three Faces of Eve (1957), a movie about a woman with Dissociative Identity Disorder, the entertainment industry has been enthralled with the idea of mental illness. While the entertainment industry could be a potentially positive platform for mental health awareness, the business often misrepresents these illnesses. Films like Split (2016), a movie that not only inaccurately depicts Dissociative Identity Disorder but also promotes the idea that mentally ill people are dangerous, shows how even in our modern world, the movie industry continues to reduce mental illness to a mere plot device.
However, it is not only fictional depictions of mental illness that can be harmful. In the news, a large amount of the coverage given to mental health is related to violence like mass shootings and murders. While this coverage is not inherently bad, there should also be an equal amount of stories about mental illness that don’t relate to violence. If the public only sees mental illness in the news regarding tragedy, it will solidify the idea that mental illness is something to be feared, further stigmatizing this very real problem that many Americans struggle with.
The stigmatization of mental illness has a huge effect on the people who deal with it on a daily basis. Often times, it can cause people with mental illness to not realize the severity of what they are dealing with and to feel isolated from society. If society is telling mentally ill people that their problems are not real, then many affected people may begin to believe these false claims.
Furthermore, people with mental illness are the least likely among people with health conditions or disabilities to find work, be in steady relationships, live in good housing, and be socially included within society. The main difference between people with mental illness and others with health conditions or disabilities is the fact that many people with mental health issues are not regarded as actually “ill.” This belittling of mental illness is extremely harmful to people who suffer through it on a daily, and as a society, we need to find ways to combat this harmful mindset.
Now that we have identified the issue,
the big question is: how do we fix it?
The biggest part of de-stigmatization is education. Having mental health education be required just like sex education would be beneficial and would start instilling positive attitudes toward mental illness from an early age. Schools must emphasize that there is a biological difference between people with mental illness and people without and that treatment for patients is valuable.
A shift in the media ‘s portrayal of mental health would also be helpful. Having more movies that represent mental illness without romanticization would provide mental health educators with an platform accessible to a wider audience. To that point, movie creators should consult mental health professionals before taking on serious topics like depression and suicide so that they can create the most accurate image possible.
Finally, we as consumers should be conscious of what we are taking in. If you see something that you believe to be a harmful representation of mental illness, talk about it. Speaking out can have a huge impact on educating the people right around you. Issues like the stigmatization of mental health cannot be solved by just a few powerful people—we need everyone.
So don’t be afraid to stand up against the stigmatization of mental illness. This movement is in your hands.