The lessons learned about mental illness should transcend every day. These are a few points we should always be mindful of — if we vow to keep them close, they’ll make us more empathetic and understanding.
People who suffer from mental illness are more than just the “sad” or “anti-social” stereotypes. There is no face of mental illness — your friend might be depressed, a parent or even yourself.
1. People with mental illness are more than what meets the eye. There are so many layers to these individuals, some with more baggage than others, but none the least, these people have so much going on in their lives. We cannot stereotype mental illnesses because every person, every case is different. Just like a diamond, no people are the same, nor do they have the same exact illness. People are born with mental illnesses, and then there are people who suffer traumatic experiences, then they inherit a mental illness. There are too many ways for illnesses to occur to be able to list them. That would be non-sense.
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2. TV shows don’t always show an accurate representation of mental illness — so don’t be fooled.
There are too many tv shows that want to put the topic of mental illness in their scripts, but most are going about it all wrong by inaccurately portraying a mental illness, or saying degrading slurs about people with a mental illness, I am talking about reality tv. Those are the worst comments I have ever heard. So naïve, and also so wrong about their facts they say, and use inappropriate language about mental illnesses. I am talking about the reality show(s) “Real Housewives”. I can remember from the Atlanta season, Beverly Hills and Orange County all saying things such as don’t be schizo, or self-diagnosing friends to have bi-polar all because a person got angry and loud. You cannot self-diagnose, or invent illnesses that do not exist for ratings! This is a serious topic, and there is no room to use an illness to gain fame!
Conversely, it feels like a huge win for those who suffer from a type of mental illness when the disorder is portrayed accurately on TV. Shows such as “Shameless” and “Homeland” do a fantastic job of presenting mental health issues how they actually are.
Here are some examples of incorrect portrayals:
- Lizzie McGuire
“While you probably remember this episode for that killer dance number, an even bigger event happens. Miranda (Lalaine) thinks she’s too fat, so she develops an eating disorder. By the end of the episode, however, Miranda’s friends are able to convince her she looks great, and her eating disorder magically goes away. It’s never referenced in another episode.”
“This is definitely not accurate. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), “Eating disorders are serious biologically-influenced mental illnesses, not passing fads.” So, if Miranda’s condition was portrayed accurately, she would still be suffering from her eating disorder in future episodes.”
- Full House
“Remember that random season 4 episode when D.J. (Candace Cameron Bure) had anorexia? It’s pretty easy to forget, since D.J. only had the eating disorder for 30 minutes (or 22, if you don’t count commercials). As we just learned from the NIMH, eating disorders aren’t just here one second, gone the next. They are serious issues that take adequate time to overcome. As much as we appreciate a good ol’ Danny Tanner dad talk, in reality, that’s not how eating disorders go away.”
- Hey Arnold
“In one episode of this classic Nick show, Sid becomes obsessed — with a capital O — with germs. After watching a hygiene video, he constantly cleans everything he comes in contact with and eventually wears “protective” clothing. After Arnold explains to Sid that germs are everywhere, Sid almost instantly is back to himself again.”
“To be fair, the episode never clearly says Sid has OCD, but it’s definitely implied. Since that’s the case, Sid’s OCD wouldn’t just cure itself. There are several ways to treat OCD, such as medication or cognitive behavior therapy, but Sid’s mental illness went POOF, and was gone. Sadly, it’s not that easy to overcome OCD.”
- Saved By the Bell
“One of the most iconic moments from this show has to be Jessie’s (Elizabeth Berkley) caffeine pill addiction. In order to get through midterms and her singing group, Jessie starts popping pills to stay away and stay focused. Of course, the pills end up having the opposite effect, after she has a breakdown in front of her BFF Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar). At the end of the episode, Jessie is surrounded by her friends and tells them, “My mom’s taking me to the doctor tomorrow for counseling.” Annnnd, that’s it.”
“Jessie’s issue isn’t addressed in any future episodes. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) states, “Gaining the ability to stop abusing drugs is just one part of a long and complex recovery process.” The key words here are “long” and “complex,” neither of which are applied to Jessie’s addiction.”
- Will & Grace
“In one episode, Grace (Debra Messing) tries to get out of jury duty by forging a note from her therapist that reads, “Borderline personality disorder. High-risk for psychotic break, particularly in a stressful situation.” Later, Grace tricks her friends into really thinking she’s mentally ill, and they become afraid of her.”
“The main problem with this episode is it presents people with mental health issues as “crazy people.” It’s helping to enhance the stigma surrounding mental disorders. True, the show is a comedy and at face-value, the scenes play out as entertaining. But, if you take a moment and really think about what you’re watching, you’ll notice it presents people who actually do have borderline personality disorder as neurotic people who we should fear and avoid — and this is simply the wrong message.”
3. Therapy is an awesome option and you should never be ashamed!
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Going to therapy is like going to the gym. You’re putting time, money and thought routinely into something that makes you a healthier and happier. That’s something to be proud of.
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4. Guys aren’t exempt from eating disorders. Eating disorders can develop at any age but males and females are most at risk for anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa in their late teens/early twenties, while binge eating disorder is more prevalent in a person in their mid-twenties.
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5. You can’t just make your mental illness “go away”. Personality disorders involve long term, problematic behaviors that typically are first exhibited during adolescence and cause marked distress and impairment. The very definition of personality disorders as “chronic maladaptive patterns of behavior” implies that symptoms are stable over time; however, recent studies indicate that symptoms improve and may even completely remit over the years. Does this mean these disorders can go away? Yes and no. But mostly, no.
When you talk about recovery, strangely enough, “recovery” is still a relatively new concept in our field and many of us had little or no exposure to it in our training. So it’s no surprise that there would be a lot of confusion about what recovery from mental illness actually means.
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