Deranged. Disgusting. Crazy. Scary. All of these words are commonly used to describe someone with a mental illness, but why? Why is it that society so easily labels and continues to punish those that have no control over if they have or develop a mental illness? One of the most impactful influencers to how people view mental illnesses is the entertainment industry by giving false and dramaticized information. Because of the many toxic ways they are being shown in the media, extremely negative stigmas have formed that are proving hard to break. People think that schools are able to inform kids enough about mental illnesses, but a simple health class isn’t enough to combat the damage that has already been done. There needs to be a change with how illnesses are portrayed in the media, along with more learning opportunities to spread awareness of the situation. Throughout the media and entertainment industry, many inaccurate and disgusting ideas that are put on mental illnesses which have changed the way that people look at those with these illnesses. Firstly, people with mental illnesses are often seen as criminal or extremely violent. Studies have shown that news reports on crimes in which a person is killed by someone with a mental illness tend to get decorated with more graphic descriptions, emotional diction, and outrageous headlines that are sometimes even offensive (Fawcett). This causes the ill person to seem more dangerous, aggressive, and irrational than they actually are, making people more afraid or weary of them (Fawcett). Not only do the people with mental illnesses get a bad reputation, but psychiatric hospitals often seem to cause more harm than good. Often referred to as mental or insane asylums, psychiatric hospitals are often portrayed as a terrifying place where people used to go if they were, as the name implies, insane. Most of the people who went to these institutions would suffer from major depressive disorder, schizophrenia, or bipolar disorder, which just happened to be three relatively common mental disorders that many people in the U.S. face today (D’Antonio). To make things more exciting and dramatic media often exaggerates the horrors that go on in mental asylums and often use them as settings for many horror related stories. Of course, this causes people to fear psychiatric hospitals and, in many cases, causes people with mental illnesses to avoid going to them.With social media or just the entertainment industry in general, there are often many cases where mental illnesses get portrayed extremely inacurately. One of the most impactful and recent offenders being the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. According to psychologist Kelly Gerstenhaber, Ph.D, “The plot conflates suicide with a teenage revenge fantasy, which may send a dangerous message to potentially impressionable viewers” (Todd). In the series, the main character Hannah Baker responds to people who have caused her harm by seeking vengeance via suicide. This makes it seem as if people would think of commiting suicide just to make people feel bad about something they did or didn’t do (Todd). Gene Beresin, M.D. and director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, has a somewhat different reason for disliking the show. The message she believes is being passed down to adolescents is, “All of the things that I wish I could change when I’m alive and couldn’t, I can when I’m dead”. Almost the entire series is about how one can manipulate someone’s thoughts and feelings after they are dead (Todd). Of course, 13 Reasons Why isn’t the only famous show that got it wrong. The M. Night Shyamalan film The Visit has an extremely negative portrayal of schizophrenia. The grandparents in the movie show many, somewhat accurate, symptoms of schizophrenia, but with it being in a horror movie and them being the “bad guys”, people start to associate schizophrenia as being a bad and scary thing (Hoebeke). Even the 1976 film Sybil, about a girl, Sybil, with dissociative identity disorder (DID or multiple personality disorder), extremely dramaticized the life of the girl that it was based off of (Petrie). Later in the movie, it is shown that Sybil’s mother has schizophrenia and that she tortured Sybil in terrible ways as a sort of pleasure for herself. A person that has taken a psychology class would realize that she also has antisocial or narcissistic personality disorder, explaining her disregard and violation of Sybil and her feelings. Without knowing basic personality disorders though, people would associate schizophrenia with all of the disgusting behaviors of the mother thus worsening the perception that mental illnesses are terrifying and disturbing. Of course, movies aren’t the only form of entertainment that are diluting the reality of mental illnesses. Everything from books to magazines to video games to social media have a plethora of cases where mental illnesses are poorly portrayed, causing stigmas and inaccurate thoughts that could easily be helped with more awareness and classes at school to educate kids while they are young.Though people might say that schools are responsible for teaching teens about mental illnesses, they still aren’t able to combat the magnitude that social media influences people. Personal experience has shown that high schools tend to only scratch the surface of a couple of extremely common mental illnesses; most of the attention is put on depression and suicide. Not to mention that there is often no explanation of the causes of the mental illnesses which leaves kids to “use their imagination” and think up unrealistic reasons someone may have an illness. Most of the illnesses are generally caused because of a chemical imbalance in the brain, not because of a bad grade on a test or because of a breakup. Of course, little incidents might pile on and help contribute to something such as depression or an anxiety disorder, but people tend to “self-diagnose” themselves without even knowing anything about the illnesses. In high schools across America, one can hear “I’m gonna kill myself,” or “I’m going to have a panic attack,” almost every day from kids that are simply having a stressful or gloomy day. The overstimulation to these phrases has caused them to be manipulated from being something extremely serious and important to a common thing that people often laugh over. For people that actually go through those serious things, they get trapped with feeling like they are a joke when they try to get help for something that needs immediate psychological attention.Knowing that there are extreme inaccuracies that come from the media and throughout the entire entertainment industry, and the fact that most schools don’t teach enough about mental illnesses to combat the negative. The stigmas created by the industry have degraded the reality of mental illnesses to the point where people believe anyone with a mental illness is disgusting, crazy, or even terrifying, and they are proving quite difficult to break with all of the offenders putting a bad name on the illnesses. If there isn’t either a change in what media is allowed to stretch to dramatize a movie or TV show, or how much schools teach students about mental illnesses, then the reality and truth of what mental illnesses really are could be lost from all of society (Saleh). Naveed Saleh, MD, believes that an analysis of mass-media production should be done to understand the balance between a story being newsworth or emotionally arousing and verifiable. She also believes that mental illnesses should only be present in a story when it is relevant along with using non-individualized descriptions of mental illnesses instead of focusing on (Saleh). With this, she hopes that less false information will get spread around and have less influence on people. Some states already use mental health first aid programs to train first responders, teachers, nurses and other school staff to notice signs of mental illnesses and teach them preventive measures of the illnesses with some even requiring suicide prevention training for staff (Vestal). It should be required for all staff to go through a program to fully understand how to appropriately take care of a situation where someone is either stereotyping mental illnesses or if a student has a mental illness. A required class in which students talk about mental illnesses could help spread the truth about them, along with helping kids that are dealing with one by themselves realize that they aren’t alone. With just a little change here or there, mental illnesses can go from disgusting, scary, and crazy, to being something that is understood and can easily be helped.
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