Deep Dive on Mental Illness in Mainstream Media

maya egan

Today I’m starting the deep dive project, where we basically choose a topic we are passionate about and make a ton of different content revolving around the topic we choose. I decided to do a deep dive into the representation of mental illness in various forms of media, and my hypothesis/ question is whether or not this representation helps or hinders the stigma around mental illnesses. The portrayal of mental illness is all around us whether we acknowledge it or not, which is very significant in regards to the stigma around mental illness. For this article, I’m going to discuss the implications of mental health representation in various forms of pop culture; throughout this project, I’m going to look at specific artists, films, and tv shows, and at the end, I’ll evaluate the impact of this representation.

Let’s first talk about the music industry. Many would argue that Kid Cudi was the first rapper in particular to acknowledge his struggles with depression in his music. He never sugarcoated his mental illness, which really exposed people to the harsh realities of Depression. His impact was so large that after him, many popular artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Juice Wrld, and others started sharing their stories regarding addiction and substance abuse. In my opinion, the best music is those that tell a story or have a larger meaning and implication, which many rappers and artists nowadays include in their music. The implications of talking about mental illness is not only impactful for people that have mental illnesses’, but also men as a whole. There’s a social construct that men should suppress their feelings, and for rappers to open up about their struggles potentially breaks down that construct. Music in my opinion is the most realistic when it comes to mental illness, as people are able to tell their own stories and experiences to a larger audience, whereas in film, usually the movie is based on mere stereotypes of mental illnesses and not the real deal.

Film/ TV shows. I feel like in films, there is often a discrepancy between the depiction of a certain mental illness and the reality of the mental illness. Many times, the mental illness is depicted in a negative way. When they are depicted this way, the stigma regarding mental illness worsens/ strengthens. Example: In the movie Joker, Joaquin Phoenix is incredibly aggressive, which makes it seem that all people that have Bipolar disorder are violent. Another important thing to note is that every person faces their mental illness in a different way, so it is literally impossible to encapsulate every aspect of the disease in an accurate way. Another issue that is often faced in film/ tv shows is the evident romanticization of mental illnesses. For example, in the hit TV show Friends, Monica Geller has OCD. It is often mentioned in a joking matter and is incredibly stereotypical and shallow. This has very deep implications for the audience because it normalizes the idea of making jokes out of mental illness, and invalidates those struggling with OCD. It is clear that although having mental illness depicted in the entertainment industry helps normalize these disorders and starts the conversation surrounding mental illness, directors and writers often disregard the harsh truth behind these illnesses and create a really niche character based on these stereotypes.

Another place where different mental illnesses are prominent is on platforms like Tiktok, Instagram, and other social media. Tik Tok is a weird place for mental illness in my opinion. I feel like many people try and romanticize certain disorders when in reality they are very difficult to live with. There are also MANY triggers on this app in regards to mental illnesses. For example, I ALWAYS see people enforcing eating disorders by saying people should eat under a certain amount of calories each day, which is so unhealthy. People also often post what I eat in a day video which is also incredibly toxic because when a vulnerable individual comes across these types of videos, they start to rethink what they eat and think food is the enemy. All it takes is one video for someone to be triggered into developing an eating disorder, which is a scary realization. Despite all of this negativity, there are also some people that actively work against the stigma. For example, tiktokers like Sienna Mae Gomez, Swagtron Forever, and more are open about their struggles with Eating Disorders, depression, anxiety, etc. Although they are often positive on the app, they also show the hard days, which is when they really begin to normalize mental illnesses and their impact during their everyday lives.

It is clear that many have differing opinions regarding the representation of mental illness in mainstream media. Many people get upset because the portrayal of mental illnesses is often shallow and stereotypical, and others are happy that there is any sort of representation because it leads to more conversation and research. For the remainder of this project, I will evaluate both sides and hopefully come to a consensus on whether or not this mainstream representation helps or hinders the stigma surrounding mental illness.