Mental illness and modern media

July 13, 2017


It is no secret that today’s entertainment industry relies on the use of “trendy” topics to attract attention and gain viewers. But one popular topic has been met with mixed views: mental illness. While some view the portrayals of mentally ill characters as refreshing and enlightening, others call it insulting, believing it disrespects those who actually struggle by glamorizing the illnesses.


The romanticizing of mental illness is no new act; photos depicting self-harm are posted online, meant to look artistic, and characters in books, movies and television shows are portrayed as if mental illness is a goal which to strive for.


Though it is not the first television show to openly discuss depression and suicide, Netflix’s newest original series, “13 Reasons Why,” broadened the conversation about mental illness in the entertainment industry. The show, based on a novel of the same name, brought waves of backlash and criticism. Critics of the series argue that the storyline downplays the seriousness of depression and romanticizes the idea of suicide by portraying depression in an unrealistic manner.


The show has also been attacked for its graphic visualization of the main character’s death; the scene has been called a trigger for those who battle mental illnesses. Some viewers argue that in most mainstream media, characters’ illnesses are seen as beauty and are hailed heroes for not seeking or accepting help.


However, some believe the show and others like it are bringing to light an important issue many viewers would otherwise be unaware of and destigmatizing mental illness.


Fans of the show believe it and other series that portray depression or suicidal behavior encourage spreading kindness to all, as no one can see what another person may be dealing with.


The Tech Talk staff believes the entertainment industry does in fact glamorize mental illness to an extent. Though the exposure and awareness gained are important, the often over-dramatized portrayals of illnesses are used as a hook to interest audiences. Television shows, movies and books often downplay the severity of the topic and attempt to make it more appealing rather than realistic.


If the media intends to call attention to a topic as serious as this, it is crucial that the representations are as accurate as possible.


However, mental illness is a sensitive topic that must be approached carefully; accuracy is important, but one must also be mindful of what content may be considered a trigger to those battling a mental illness of any sort.


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