Cultural Musings

Mental Health Media: Pros and Cons

It is a major criticism of popular media that it is too safe. The need to generate a profit and hit a wide demographic often results in embarrassingly similar, generic, and soulless content. The same stories, the same genres, and the same demographics are peddled out like clockwork. This is why people are often incredibly happy to latch onto the small amount of media that addresses issues with an experimental story style, interesting combinations of genre, or include content recognizing minority races and religions.

A major trend amongst these people dissatisfied with mainstream media is enjoyment of media that tackles issues of mental health. Some of the recent shows that are often lauded for their discussion of mental health are Girls from HBO, The Degrassi franchise from a myriad of creators, Bojack Horseman from Netflix, and Steven Universe from Cartoon Network. Fans are extremely happy to have media that portrays the kind of issues they see and live with.

For a person dealing with depression, seeing a character like them can be a sign that others understand them, and that things can work out. But I have seen a disturbing occurrence when interacting with these types of stories.

Let me set the scene.

A young man lies around his apartment. He has serious depression, a history of suicidal thoughts and self-harm, and has been alone all day. He has been having dark thoughts all day relating to his unemployment, his failures in life, and his inability to beat these ideas out of his head. He tries to avoid his problems by going to a piece of media that he loves, one he has repeatedly said to others he loves for being able to show a complex depiction of depression.

But then that episode takes a dark turn.

The main character commits self-destructive acts, pushes away everyone that could possibly help him change, and ends the episode completely alone. Think about what that tells someone in that position. They might say, “Even the media that depicts people like me thinks that I’m a loser? Is this saying I’ll never achieve anything or ever be able to get through this moment in my life?”

You can see the danger.

I’m not against creating media that tackles these issues. All I am saying is that for those of us who suffer from depression or other mental health diseases, it is important to note that these programs shouldn’t be watched at all times, especially when alone. I am not going so far as to say that all shows should have a content warning before every episode, but I think it is advisable to create such a page online that one can easily find. Then that man sitting alone will know if that episode is a good one to watch alone while depressed, or if maybe it would be good to wait until he has a friend nearby.

Having these types of shows available is wonderful, as long as we are smart and safe in how we interact with them.

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