Mental Illness in Media

Coming from someone whose battled mental illness for much of her life, I have to say every portrayal of mental illness I see in the media just always raises so many questions in my head.  The media gets so many things wrong basically all the time.  But even so I still wonder if we tend to put people with mental illness in a box.  Every single portrayal of mental illness has people commenting on it; whether they got some things right or some things wrong, or just flat-out did the mentally ill dirty, and I think this is a good thing, to an extent.  I think media should always be analyzed and have people comment on whether they felt offended or wronged or actually felt connected to certain characters.  But as a mentally ill person, I can’t say I always feel the same.  I know that when I see a character on tv struggle with things I can relate to, I can at least appreciate stories like mine being represented in media.  And I always hear all of these comments through social media along the lines of “that’s not how mentally ill people act” or “that makes mentally people look bad” and so on.  And I can appreciate those comments when it’s addressing the same tropes of the mentally ill we used to see all the time.  But sometimes I think we need to take a step back.  I think we should all share our personal stories and how certain media portrayals made us feel, whether it was more connected or more alienated.  But I think when we make some of these comments with the best intentions of trying to include every story, we might actually be doing some alienating ourselves.  I know for a fact that mental illness is different in everyone’s experience and it can show itself in all different types of behaviors and it affects all different types of people.  Mental Illness doesn’t discriminate.  And it is very common for people with mental illness to feel alone with their feelings; like they are the only person on the planet who feels this way.  And say one portrayal in media made that person feel a little less alone, should we not let that person feel this way because some aspects of the show could have been damaging to other viewers.  I mean portraying mental illness in media without making it triggering for the mentally ill viewers is a conundrum in itself.  I still don’t know how to feel about that.  But what is triggering to some, and rightfully so, might help another person who is mentally ill feel less alone because the media didn’t leave anything out.  And I don’t know if this is making sense or if I even believe what I’m saying.  In a way I’m kind of playing devil’s advocate.  Like most of the time I agree with people’s grievances about media.  It should continue to be criticized because it should always strive to be better and more inclusive.  But sometimes I feel like being so critical can potentially push us in the wrong direction.  The many different experiences of mental illness are not wrong; and sometimes I feel like all these critiques are telling us that there are ways to deal with mental illness that are right and ways that are wrong.  Everyone has a different story.  Sometimes I think our goal is to perfect the representation of a topic that is just simply not perfect at all.

So yeah I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this because I think it’s still all really confusing for me.  Please feel free to completely disagree with me I just would love to hear back from others on what they think.  Thanks!

Kelsey ❤