As someone who has chronic illnesses coupled with mental illnesses, I strongly believe that the media tends to portray these illnesses in an unfavorable light. Media presentations tend to reinforce the public’s stereotypes on mental and chronic illnesses and thus instilling fear in the public. This further isolates people suffering from mental or chronic illnesses, preventing them from sharing their stories and struggles with loved ones and with the public. With regards to chronic illnesses, the media often illustrates visible chronic illnesses differently in comparison to invisible chronic illnesses. A chronically ill individual is normally depicted as someone who is often weak and cannot achieve greatness as opposed to someone who is not restricted by these stereotypes (someone who does not suffer from chronic or mental illnesses).
For too long we have swept the problems of mental illness under the carpet and hoped that they would go away. – Richard J. Codey
Stereotypes associated with people suffering from mental health conditions:
- People with mental illnesses are violent, evil and unpredictable: Television series and films have often depicted people who suffer from serious mental issues such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) ,Severe Depression, Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia (more especially), as extremely violent and prone to committing crimes. Although there have been cases where people with mental illnesses have committed horrific crimes, this does not mean that these people are erratic or unstable. People with mental illnesses are prone to being victims of crimes more than they are prone to being the ones committing the crimes. Most severe mental health conditions are characterized by psychosis, and this is what the media tends to sensationalize in films and media to sell their product. Psychosis is a term which describes the sensory experiences someone with a mental illness experiences, these can include hallucinations, delusions and difficulties in concentration.
- PTSD(Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a diagnosis that is severe for Veterans: There are millions of people who have been diagnosed with either PTSD or Complex PTSD that have not gone to war or have been in the army. I have Complex PTSD, mine was due to prolonged trauma for several years. People who have Complex PTSD have a more chronic form of PTSD than those who were diagnosed with PTSD. CPTSD involves distorting a person’s intuitive self through abuse or traumatic events. People with CPTSD are prone to having other health issues or other mental health issues because there is trauma coupled with a warped sense of self. Which often leads to them not knowing how to regulate themselves and form interpersonal relationships outside themselves. PTSD on the other hand, only involves the impact that the trauma has on the person and not necessarily their inner self. Although, this might be affected but it can be restored a lot faster than in those with CPTSD. Whereas someone with CPTSD, might spend a lifetime trying to overcome this, because they often do not know who they are outside of trauma and suffering trust is huge issue for them; this can even lead to them suspecting their support system of potentially harming them, even when the support system means no harm.
Any other illness, any other disease that we’re faced with, there’s sympathy and understanding. We get help for those. With mental illness, our go-to is to categorize them as, “Oh, they’re crazy,” to belittle the problem. – Chris Wood
- Mental health conditions never get better: Many characters in films and on television series are often depicted as never getting better despite their efforts of going for therapy and being medicated. They often turn out way worse despite their attempts to getting better. This often leads to them being portrayed committing heinous crimes, or often times committing suicide. This perception from the media is far from the truth.
It is Possible and very common to overcome and manage a mental illness. – Madchen Amick
- Mental health professionals all perform the same role: Film and media does not distinguish the different roles of mental health professionals. Psychologists, Counsellors, Social Workers, Psychiatrists and Primary care doctors all perform the same role, in motion pictures. However, in reality all these professionals help people manage their mental illnesses through diet, exercise, medications and therapy.
- Teenagers can be rebellious and not necessarily suffer from mental illness: Most teenagers in the media are illustrated abusing substances, being promiscuous, experiencing bullying, having issues with body image (often resulting in eating disorders) and sometimes going through phases of depression. These acts are deemed as normal and are just considered as a ” teenage phase” and are not properly dealt with. While in reality someone who behaves this way, should seek help so that they can deal with the source of their behavior. To reduce the chances of self harm and resolve the inner turmoil the teenager might be experiencing. Most mental health illnesses are usually diagnosed between the ages of 15-24. Other health conditions such as PTSD, CPTSD and sometimes bipolar disorder and depression, often present themselves way earlier or later on in life.
Stereotypes associated with people suffering from Chronic illnesses (both visible and invisible):
- Some people do not look extremely sick but they look healthy: There are invisible and visible disabilities, disability cannot be measured by what a person looks like or how they present themselves on a daily basis. Just because someone does not look sick this does not invalidate their illness. I have CPTSD and other chronic illnesses due to the prolonged stress that i’ve had in my life time. I have heard some of my peers say I don’t look sick, or have them ridicule my gluten free and diary free diet as a “choice” that i make to lose weight. While this is far from the truth, its really disrespectful having to listen to such stereotypical statements on a daily basis. Some illnesses are invisible and that just simply means that one can’t tell just by looking at someone and conclude that they really are ill. I have also heard people with visible disabilities or chronic illnesses complain about being ridiculed and pointed out because of the way they look or due to the accommodations they have to have to run errands on a daily. This can have a severely negative impact on a person’s self esteem and mental health.
- People with disabilities or chronic illnesses can’t lead very successful lives: despite illnesses taking their toll on people and them having to overcome more hurdles than most people because of their illnesses, this doesn’t take away from the fact that they can lead very successful lives and live to achieve their dreams. Life and death are both inevitable. Every single person on this earth has these. It is their birth right. This shouldn’t take away from the fact that despite being ill, no matter how ill you may be, you can do anything you want to do; you can be anything you want to be. Your mind has power over all else. You reading this right now stands for something, you still have life running through those veins. Your passion and your life purpose, what sets your soul on fire; should be the blood that keeps your heart going. Do you and be completely yourself. People like Professor Stephen Hawking, bare testimony to this. People like them should make you strive to push all boundaries and be you, no matter your circumstances!
- Conclusion: Despite portraits of people like ourselves in the media, it is quite essential to understand that our own perception of ourselves outweighs an external one. Our self-esteem does not depend on the media, but it would be less of a pain media didn’t drown out our concerns and struggles with misrepresentation and distorted portrayals bordering on statistical misinformation. There is always fear, nobody is perfect, but we are perfect in our own imperfections. Loving the way that our bodies unfold as we grow older and coming into terms with the struggles related to our mental and chronic illnesses, will help us fall back in love with ourselves.
I look forward to seeing you here soon. Let us rebuild a healthy state of mind.