Media-Driven Mental Health Stigma: How We Can Help Stop It

I was not feeling well recently and so I had time to catch up on my “guilty pleasure” reading. In the December 23, 2013 issue of Star Magazine, there was a long article called, “Olivia Newton-John: No Regrets.” I’ve liked Olivia since I saw Grease when I was a kid, so I took the time to read it.

The paragraphs under the heading “Tragic Turns” mentioned Ms. Newton-John’s divorce in 1995, adding that, “She later admitted to undergoing therapy after the divorce.” Further down the page, the article reported that her partner of 9 years post-divorce disappeared during a fishing trip and that, “Olivia has admitted to taking anti-depressants during the dark period that followed. ‘I took them until I could see the light again and never did them again,’ she said.”

Is it just me or do you get a certain message “between the lines” because of the language that was used? The World English Dictionary defines admit as, “To confess or acknowledge (a crime, mistake, etc).” Basically, that means to acknowledge something negative. And when someone says they “never did [a drug] again,” it generally alludes to a dangerous or illegal substance, right? In any case, it sounds very negative once again.

Unfortunately, this is not the only media outlet to use language like this. The January 13, 2014 issue of People Magazine featured a 3-page spread about “America’s Dumbest Criminals.” The first on the list was Hannah Sabata, a young woman who robbed a bank and stole a car, then proceeded to make a video about it and upload it to YouTube. On the surface, it does sound not-so-bright; however, further down the paragraph, it was stated that Sabata was mentally ill. She was quoted as saying, “…I was just manic…” This may mean that she suffers from Bipolar Disorder. In a manic state, people deal with impulsivity and dangerous behaviors. It’s not because they’re dumb; it’s because they are ill.

So what can we do when we come across things like this? I took the time to email letters to the editors of both magazines. I don’t know if they’ll be printed or not, but they probably will be read by someone. Perhaps that will create a ripple effect. I am also canceling my subscription to People (the Star magazine was given to me by someone else). I cannot in good conscience support a magazine that perpetuates the stigma.

If you’re tired of the media making self-care, self-help, therapy and psychiatry out to be shameful, then take a stand. When you come across something like the examples above, please take some time to write to the editor, contact the station manager or webmaster. If one single person hears you, then perhaps eventually the whole country will.

Blessings to you and yours!

3 thoughts on “Media-Driven Mental Health Stigma: How We Can Help Stop It

  1. It really is time to destigmatize mental illness. People don’t confess when it comes to taking medication for a headache or cold. Mental illness is a physical illness. Period.

  2. This is an interesting perspective that could be taken a step further.

    Given that no one is categorically and permanently “mentally balanced” (i.e. we all have to manage various psychological challenges and stressors throughout our life) it would almost be pragmatic for us to regard mental health support in a similar fashion to how we regard physical exercise.

    The wisest amongst us don’t exercise to get lean and healthy, they exercise to stay lean and healthy – and society regards such behaviour as a wise investment in our wellbeing.

    If a person undergoes a shocking or traumatic life event, like having a long-term partner seemingly disappear off the face of the earth, isn’t it almost sensible to pursue a professional support strategy rather than risk having your mental health crumble in unpredictable or destructive ways?

  3. I agree with both of you! If you broke a bone, you’d see a doctor. If you have Diabetes, you’d take your insulin. If you have a trauma or symptoms of a mental health issue, go see a psychiatrist and/or therapist! It only makes sense and is a part of self-care! That’s why articles like the ones I mentioned make me so mad. The language makes it seem shameful.

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