Despite the sensitive nature of the subject the media has never exactly shied away from the portrayal of mental illness. With 1 in 4 people supposedly experiencing some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime it makes sense not to ignore the existence of the condition but is it fair to create any sort of stigma around such a complicated and easily misunderstood ailment?
BBC Three recently produced a ‘It’s a Mad world’ series of programmes giving a supposedly honest insight to the life of a crazy. Of course though, only the most extreme and for the most of the population un-relatable cases were shown, which poses lots of questions. What did the BBC actually intend to achieve from this series? With programming such as ‘Don’t call me crazy.’ amongst the contradictory named season the BBC introduced the elephant to the room. Or did it put the elephant in a tutu for our entertainment?
The BBC themselves simply state that the purpose of the season is to ‘..look at a range of mental health issues affecting young people in Britain today.’ But why? The channel’s target audience includes those in the 16–34 year old age group, and has the purpose of providing “innovative” content to younger audiences. Why is talking about mental health so ‘innovative’ though?
The media in the past has been slated for ‘freakshowing’ and highlighting mental illness as something of fascination but where exactly is the line between positive awareness building and exploitation?
With World mental health day on the 10th October, I have been thinking about the mass media’s role in shaping, perpetuating, and reducing the stigma of mental illness and how this has changed.
The one that flew over the cuckoos nest (1975) was praised for getting this balance right, with it’s over the top truths still allowing for a surprisingly not so awkward kind of funny as you might have expected from the media previously, it became a real eye opener for the discussion of mental health within the media.
The american film follows a ‘sane’ troublemaker in the world of a highly controlled mental asylum where it becomes obvious they are all the same just as much as they are different.
The media does seem to be taking some positive steps to highlight the prevalence of mental health issues. Such as http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs/ouch/ run by the BBC for disabled viewers and the premieres of shows such as attention grippingly named I’m spazticus which isn’t afraid to laugh at disability. It might make some people feel awkward to bring this to light but with the numbers of mental health illnesses between us rocketing why shouldn’t we have a sense of humour about it? Or is the area just too sensitive?
Whilst society and thus the media are becoming less afraid to talk about disability, mental health is still seen by many as something a great deal more complex. Mental health although prevalent with hidden pains can also have physical symptoms such as changes in appetite, shaking, uncontrollable movements and unexplainable aches and pains to name a few. So why is the media afraid to discuss the existence of disability as such but willing to laugh in the face of our mental health?
“The media can be used to foster more positive community attitudes and behaviours towards people with mental disorders. (Mental health,New Understanding, New Hope).”
I believe it is about time media producers accept these cumulative changes as a part of our society. To laugh with but not at.
BBC. (2013). It’s a mad world season. Available: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01b3s86/features/programmes. Last accessed 15th Sep 2013.
Klin A, Lemish D. (2008). Mental disorders stigma in the media: review of studies on production, content, and influences.. USA: PubMed. p1.
World Health Organisation. (2001). Promoting mental health. In: Haden,A. and Campinini,B Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope. 2nd ed. France: WHO. P98-103.