Mental health in media: Authenticity is key

Jen Meinhardt, Staff Writer

If you spend any time parked in front of a television you may have seen some shows attempting to deal with the topic of mental health. “13 Reasons Why” had a controversial release last year, and for good reason. The premise looks at suicide and depression from the view of a high school student who’s lost their friend to suicide. This is called a suicide survivor, and the show follows him as he pieces together the reasons.

This take on suicide was new and meant to catch people’s attention — and it did. According to CNN, some mental health experts worried that vulnerable teens could watch this and see suicide as an easy way out of bullying. Others believe that “13 Reasons Why” opened the door to discussion of at-risk teens with mental health issues. Whatever the creators of the show were hoping for, it can’t be denied the conversation has been opened — yet, it doesn’t mean that the conversation has been successful.

There are several pieces of media that try to include mental health or mentally ill characters in their shows. Released in 2002, the show “Monk” follows a character with OCD, often using the titular character as the butt of a joke. The recent show “Young Sheldon” is actually based on the autistic genius Sheldon Cooper of “The Big Bang Theory.” Media presents mental health like it’s a joke; after all, depression can be funny — that is, until it leads to suicide and becomes a shocking spectacle. Autism is only valuable when it can be presented for laughs or a character provides a valuable service to the people around them like in “The Good Doctor” or Sherlock Holmes from BBC’s “Sherlock.”

That’s not to say there isn’t room for characters such as these in popular media. People with mental health disorders are misunderstood, and there is a lot of misinformation circling about them. Sherlock calls himself a high-functioning sociopath, but really he’s probably just autistic and has problems connecting with people. Doctor John Watson has PTSD, but that doesn’t mean relief only comes when throwing oneself into danger. Sheldon Cooper is smart, but he’s a jerk because he’s allowed to get away with it. Depression can be a killer, but that doesn’t mean that it is acceptable to throw suicide into people’s faces like it’s a sideshow attraction and not completely preventable. The disabled characters we need should be authentic to how these diseases affect people.

If you experience any changes in mood or thought, please seek out help from the Center for Wellness and Counseling. There you can get ten free sessions a semester with one of the counselors. Don’t be silent, don’t be ashamed. This is the time of year where depression can set in, find help before you find yourself in a difficult position.

This article was originally published in the Nov. 9, 2018 issue.