Mental Health in the Media

As members of Generation Z, most of us grew up in an extremely tech-savvy society and environment. We lust after the latest tech gadgets, spend most of our time on various social media platforms, and are overall, constantly surrounded by media. As a result, we have greater access to and are more susceptible to media influences than previous generations.

A theme that has become increasingly popular in television and social media is the misuse and inaccurate portrayal of mental health. Television personality Khloe Kardashian has a series on her YouTube channel titled “Khlo-C-D”, highlighting various organization tips. It is undeniable how popular the Kardashian family currently is – they can be found all over the tabloids and in various campaigns, with their products on shelves in stores across North America. Khloe alone boasts 44.3 million Instagram followers. So what does it say to her impressionable fans when she relates the task of creating the perfect cookie jar to the daily trials of those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

This is only one example of how media has been used to inaccurately portray mental health. ABC Family’s Pretty Little Liars is a popular television series following the lives of four girls after the mysterious disappearance of their friend, Allison. The show has a large and supportive fan base – it is now in its sixth season and has won numerous Teen Choice Awards and People’s Choice Awards. Halfway through the first season, it was revealed that one of the main characters, Hanna Marin, struggled in the past with binge eating disorder. It was Allison that “helped” her by suggesting she throws up after eating. Not only does her eating disorder seem to magically disappear following Allison’s disappearance, her eating habits are joked about in later episodes. This downplays the severity of eating disorders and to an extent, mocks those who struggle with them in real life.

The media is using mental disorders to create dramatic television plot lines and psychological terminology as slang language to become the norm. Our generation seems to be picking up on these errors and mimicking them. Statements like: “This weather is so bi-polar” or “She is such a psychopath” slip out of our mouths so casually that they become the convention. Not only are these statements incorrect uses of psychological terminology, we are subjecting our mental health to mere adjectives.

However, there is one classic storyline that has portrayed mental health consistently and authentically over the years. A.A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh, originally a book, later adapted to theatre, audio, radio, and film, is a long-standing testament to the way in which media has the power to inform youth about mental health disorders. All eight characters in this series have each been identified to suffer from different disorders. For example, Tigger has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and is seen constantly bouncing around, while Eeyore has depressoin and almost always speaks in a gloomy, forlorn tone. In essence, Winnie-the-Pooh­ details the trials and lives of those suffering with these respective disorders.

Perhaps moving forward, we can look to series like Winnie-the-Pooh as a basis to educate our peers and ourselves on mental health. Moreover, we can try to be mindful of the terminology we choose to use. We can collectively make a difference by individually doing our part. Speak up and question things when you don’t think they are accurate. As a generation, we can use social media as a platform to create positive change and have healthy and authentic conversations. Tweet @yWETALK, and let’s talk!

Jessica Ip


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