mental health

Normalising Mental Health

Tiktok has been a great platform for education on many topics, one of which being mental health. It’s fantastic that it’s becoming more normalised in society because most people suffer from a mental health problem at least once in their life. However, I’ve also noticed issues that arise with normalising mental health and I want to go into what these issues are and why it’s damaging.

What’s the issue?

One particular trend that was popular lately was a song would play and two people would be sitting in front of the camera listening. The purpose of the tiktok was to show someone with anxiety masking their anxiety and someone without anxiety. A common trend was that the anxiety sufferer would be fidgety and unable to sit still but the person without it could.

The issue with trends like these lies in the fact that anxiety is different for everyone and that a lot of these people seemed to be acting fidgety. I’m not saying they don’t suffer from anxiety because they may. But it does bring up the question whether or not they do and instills doubt. Normalising it in such a way as this, portrays that fidgeting and erratic movement is normal in all situations, such as listening to a song. It doesn’t take into account that there are triggers. As a result it downplays it and sends the message that this is just everyday life for anxiety sufferers – suggesting triggering events don’t occur.

When there is a message like this in place it doesn’t do anyone favours. Causing people to believe that fidgeting and inability to sit still equals anxiety can give rise to self diagnosis especially in kids. It can also popularise the term, for example; the way OCD would be used when people were being impulsive. This is an issue because if someone doesn’t suffer from anxiety and they believe these behaviours are normal in anxiety and use the term loosely, it can cause them to invalidate other anxiety sufferers. In the end, anxiety definitely can be self-diagnosable to a certain extent, however a lot of the time it requires intervention by a professional to diagnose and build a care plan based on this diagnosis.

Examples of poor mental health portrayal:

I want to list some examples that poorly portray mental health. There’s a lot out there but I’d like to list a few that I’ve noticed. A common theme tends to be romanticising it and this is quite damaging. It teaches people with mental health issues that there’s a romantic component to it and those without that a person can fix another person. By all means open up to someone but it really creates unfair expectations on both people.

  • 13 Reasons Why. It created a haunting yet romantic aesthetic to suicide and leaving the tapes as a suicide note. It also created a revenge fantasy and did little on suicide education and prevention. Another theme it lacked was that it didn’t encourage those with depression to seek help.
  • Glee. I once played a Glee drinking game. Having a sip for every offensive thing they say can be dangerous. I was truely shocked. Glee does a really great job of making it seem like mental illness and disability is funny. Unfortunately, this was a show a lot of us watched as children. I get that it was a different time but it still amazes me the things people saw as humorous in the past.
  • Sherlock. Great show, however, it throws around the term psychopath very loosely while romanticising it. It also encourages self-diagnosis.

Examples of healthy mental health portrayal:

Some movies and shows I have watched demonstrate mental health incredibly well. The best part is that a lot of them are children’s movies and we do love some positive representations that help children deal with their emotions!

  • Moana. I always saw Tafiti as a representation of a broken heart. Someone took away a part of her and left her there to fester – becoming enraged. It’s a really powerful metaphor because through the help of Moana, she could finally forgive.
  • Frozen. Another really powerful film. Both movies demonstrate anxiety and depression, as well as the fear of losing and letting others in because of these issues.
  • Inside out. As this movie takes place in the mind, it’s really easy to see how it can be about mental health. This is especially true when sadness keeps screwing with her surroundings and effecting the child. It can also emphasise how depression and anxiety can be chemical.
  • The Haunting of Hill House. This show takes horror and gives it meaning. It does an incredible job of demonstrating distorted reality. Most of the characters are plagued in one way or another and some by their own ghosts. I definitely recommend watching this before Halloween on Saturday!
  • Anne with an E. This show is amazing and it shows how societal pressures can effect your mental health. It can be quite heartbreaking at times but the writing is amazing.
  • The Good Place. This show actually shows the process of a person becoming good and it does this in a light hearted way. I think it definitely relates to mental health because we all tend to see ourselves as a bad person at times and it’s a reminder how everyone can be good when surrounded by great people.

How do we combat this?

It’s very important to remember that if there’s demand then the media will continue to produce such TV and film. Openly discussing and analysing films do help. And I understand, we want light hearted films sometimes, ones we can enjoy. That is true however, there’s definitely a difference between funny or light hearted and invalidating or downplaying. It’s much like with other issues, as long as jokes are made about it in a such a way that invalidate’s an individuals’ pain or trauma, then no progress in understanding and normalising the concept will be made. In saying that, joking about ones mental health or having characters that do that is fine. We seek laughter where there is pain that’s just part of being human. It’s very much we should laugh with the person and not at them because we can all relate to a certain extent.

Thanks for reading and I hope it was interesting! Mental health is an important topic and I hope one day it can be discussed more openly.

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