Step 3: Consider Potential Pitfalls

Step by Step Process

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  1. When a story includes mental health themes, consider the potential pitfalls and impact on your audience in the early stages of development.
  2. Ask yourself: Is this story accurate? Does it reinforce harmful stereotypes? Would viewers walk away with a negative perception of help-seeking and treatment?

Storylines involving mental health challenges and negative outcomes like suicide can be powerful. They can also contain pitfalls that can contribute to emotional struggles, influence harmful behaviors, reinforce negative stereotypes, or create barriers to help-seeking. 

The next step is to review the list of themes you identified in the first step, and make an initial list of potential pitfalls. If you haven’t read them already, the Top Storytelling Tips sections are great tools to help you understand some of these potential risks and their context. If you’re working with a subject matter advisor, they can collaborate with you on developing this list of potential pitfalls. 

Let’s use a hypothetical example to show what this list might look like. Imagine a romantic comedy in which an individual living with OCD has created a very routine, regimented (and somewhat solitary) lifestyle to keep his days as predictable as possible. For our story, let’s say this main lead is a gay man and has struggled a bit with being open about his sexuality. He unexpectedly meets and falls in love with a free-spirited guy who is accustomed to a much more spontaneous and disorganized lifestyle. At first, their differences lead to major problems and a devastating breakup, but with the help of the lead character’s eccentric therapist, they figure out how to complement and balance each other out, and create a life that works for both of them. 

Potential risks include: 

  • Reinforcing negative stereotypes about people with OCD or using the real struggles involved with this condition for comedic purposes, which could make individuals living with OCD feel more isolated or misunderstood.
  • Depicting the main character’s struggle with sexuality in a way that might make others going through similar situations feel like there is something to hide or be ashamed of.
  • Leaning too heavily on the therapist’s eccentricities in a way that reinforces a belief that therapy is silly or ineffective.
  • Wrapping up the ending too neatly so it doesn’t reflect the actual challenges OCD individuals may face in navigating the dynamics of an intimate relationship.

Your list of potential pitfalls should be a working and evolving document to help keep you and your team proactive in thinking about ways to make sure you are telling the story in a way that is as accurate and as impactful as possible.

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more in part 6