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Mental Illness on TV: The Good and the Bad

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Author: Prince Diana

If you’re like me, you watch way, way too much Netflix whenever you have the chance. It’s a great way to unwind and relax, and binging a show can be one of the most enjoyable things to do on a budget. With the advent of on-demand TV, Netflix and other companies have started to produce a bunch of shows about different mental illnesses and related issues. Shows like “13 Reasons Why,” “To the Bone,” and many others can get really into the thick of mental illness.

This has both good and bad impacts, and I think it’s important to know both!

The Good

While most (if not all) of these shows have some questionable representations of mental illness, there are certainly benefits to their existence. This is mainly visibility. People get to see and understand mental illness by relating to characters and somewhat experiencing their situation. This helps create conversations and understandings of mental illness that wouldn’t otherwise happen. You can use this to your advantage! If you’re passionate about mental health (I know I am), you can use these shows as launching points into really valuable discussions on real mental health issues.

The Bad

However, that is exactly how they should remain – launching points. The harm of these shows is when people take the experiences they see on TV too literally and assume that is actually what mental illness always looks like. Not only is it important to remember that mental illness can take a number of different forms, it’s also important to remember that these illnesses are often not as dramatic or pretty as they are on TV. Ultimately, TV writers know that they have to captivate their audience. So they add bits of drama, and romanticize (and often ignore) significant parts of life when it comes to mental illness. Remembering that can be really important.

It’s also important to remember that, if you currently have a mental illness, watching these shows can be really dangerous.

Sometimes seeing other people who are going through the same thing as you can be helpful, but that shouldn’t come from the romanticized drama of TV. This can often be really hurtful and dangerous. Make sure you’re aware of how you, in your unique situation, are experiencing the show.

So What Do We Do?

Just because these shows have harms doesn’t mean you’re a bad person for watching them. If we’re aware of both the benefits and the harms of this kind of media, it can be really easy to minimize the harms and use the benefits to our advantage.

Just remember, know yourself and know the show. If you aren’t in a place where you can watch something safely – don’t watch it! And if the show dramatizes certain aspects of an illness, keep that in mind when you discuss it with other people.

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