As storytellers, we have the opportunity not just to entertain, but also to educate, inspire, and create real change.
We have seen firsthand how the emotional connection created by entertainment media can move the needle on critical issues such as HIV, LGBTQ+ rights, and immigration.
Mental health is another arena where stories have the power to influence audience perceptions and behaviors, particularly when it comes to self-care, help-seeking, and supporting the people we care about. In addition, incorporating mental health themes in our work can deeply enrich our storytelling, making our characters more layered, more authentic, and more relatable to viewers.
Despite the potential positive impact of mental health storylines, viewers are still limited in the number and diversity of stories they are likely to see. And the nature of those portrayals is not always helpful or supportive to people who are struggling.
It‘s important to address the limited portrayals of mental health given the broad impact of the issue across all demographics. Even if someone never experiences a diagnosable mental health condition, most people will encounter situations in their lives that impact their emotional wellbeing.
Furthermore, issues like the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice, economic instability, political discord, violent tragedies, and the climate crisis are exacerbating an already difficult mental health landscape. Over half of all adults reported increased anxiety and depression in the first half of 2020, and a recent survey found that 40% of adults in the US have experienced a mental health challenge connected to COVID-19.
These challenges only heighten the important role entertainment media can play in expanding mental health storytelling — and for some individuals, these stories may be one of the only touchpoints to learn about mental health, see what healthy coping looks like, and find out about existing resources. Now is the moment for storytellers and mental health professionals to join forces in using the power of entertainment media to inspire actions that improve mental health and wellbeing.