Why TV is Integral to Combatting the Nation’s Mental Health Stigma

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September 21, 2016



Time to read: 3 minutes
mental health stigma - Hook Research

Hook Research recently attended the Mental Wealth Festival in London, where TV was discussed as actively working to breakdown the mental health stigma in the UK. Mental health issues impact a large part of the population in this country: 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems in a year, while anxiety and depression are on the rise, particularly among millennials and the younger generations. Yet 75% of those living with mental health issues are not receiving any help, despite these services costing the NHS 9.2 billion a year. David Cameron has admitted that not enough has been done in this area, leading to “thousands of tragic and unnecessary deaths”. While ministers have agreed to put an extra £1 billion annually towards the services, perhaps we should also be exploring what other industries are doing to increase the nation’s understanding of mental illness and how popular culture is affecting the mental health stigma.

Media and social responsibility

While TV Shows have been known to either politely skim over the mental health stigma or exacerbate stereotypes by portraying an individual as violent and unstable, they are now working to reflect the reality of mental health and are starting to take media and social responsibility seriously. Time to Change offers a Media Advisory Service that provides writers with an opportunity to discuss their plots and characters, allowing them to create story lines that deliver accurate portrayals of mental health conditions to audiences.

Sue Baker, Director of Time to Change states: “Drama can make a huge difference in the struggle to get people thinking about mental health properly and without prejudice… The media have the ability to shape and form public opinion so it’s important that some of the country’s best loved soaps and drama series are taking on mental health story lines, doing them accurately, not fuelling stigma and helping to improve understanding.”

She’s clearly not wrong: 54% of people say that seeing a well-known character on screen has improved their understanding of mental health problems; 48% said it helped to change their opinion about the kind of people who can develop these problems; and 31% said it actively inspired them to start a conversation about the story line with friends, family or colleagues.

mental health stigma - Hook Research

TV can help breakdown the mental health stigma

It would seem that TV is finally catching up. The BBC, for example, has just run their most ambitious mental health project ever – The Mind season – earlier in the year. The two week run explored the previously taboo subject by airing documentaries, feeding mental health into the news reports and showing Stacey’s struggle with postpartum psychosis in EastEnders. Yet this wasn’t the first time soaps have tried to raise awareness around a condition: in 2014 Coronation Street’s Steve McDonald was diagnosed with depression; Emmerdale featured Belle breaking down and being sectioned; and Hollyoaks has a long history of covering a range of conditions from eating disorders to schizophrenia. More recently, the newly returned Cold Feet explores Pete’s diagnosis and battle with depression, which in turn has triggered This Morning to begin a discussion around the disease.

If we start discussions at home, in schools and in the workplaces as a result of accurate media coverage, this will not only help challenge stigma, but reduce isolation and increase early diagnosis. With pressure on media outlets to become more responsible and to consider the impact of their content, we hope that this is the beginning of industries working together to end the stigma of mental health.

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