Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment - Mental Health

Top Storytelling Tips

Download / print

  1. Show that treatment works
    1. Show realistic portrayals of effective therapeutic treatments to help lessen fear and misconceptions and make viewers more likely to seek help.

A primary reason people don’t seek help for mental health challenges is the belief that treatment won’t work for them personally or that they can handle it on their own. It’s important to avoid reinforcing this belief since treatment for mental health conditions can be effective in changing one’s prognosis and outcomes in the same way medical treatments are for hypertension or diabetes. We would never think of forgoing treatment for these health conditions and we shouldn’t for mental health conditions either.

Another misconception is that therapy is only for crisis situations, or that it’s a luxury for those with the time and resources to access it. Many people may not understand what happens in therapy or the ways it can support their mental health.

Entertainment media can demystify what happens in therapy and show that it’s an effective form of treatment. 

Content can counter negative perceptions and lack of awareness by showing treatment in a realistic and helpful way.

  • Expand depictions of the help-seeking and recovery process. When portraying the pain, suffering, complications, and negative outcomes of mental health conditions, don’t stop at the point of reaching rock bottom. Depict the full help-seeking, treatment, and recovery process as powerfully as you portray the problem.
  • Avoid storylines that imply mental health professionals are unqualified, ineffective, unethical, and/or out of touch with the problems their clients are facing. While we understand that there are narratives that require mental health professionals to be flawed or ineffective, look for ways to balance this approach with portrayals of effective treatment.
  • When representing specific treatments and facilities in entertainment media storylines, it’s important to do so accurately and thoughtfully. For example, inpatient treatment facilities are sometimes presented as places for people who are incapable of living safely in the outside world, depicted as prisonlike settings that are unmonitored and abusive. In reality, inpatient treatment can serve a variety of purposes, like monitoring progress of treatments in a more controlled environment, creating a setting with fewer variables to better understand and treat mental health conditions, or detoxing from drugs or alcohol. Similarly, treatments like electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) are also often misunderstood. ECT has proven very effective with certain conditions and is administered as a controlled, safe medical procedure. However, ECT is often depicted as a dangerous, painful process that resembles torture or punishment for those with serious mental health challenges.
  • Demystify therapy and other forms of treatment. Many viewers don’t know that there are many different types of therapy available and different skills someone can learn. In fact, some viewers may not know anything at all about what happens in therapy, which can be a barrier to help-seeking. It’s helpful to portray the wide variety and modalities of treatments and the different reasons they might be used. 
  • While we don’t want to spotlight treatment in general as ineffective, frightening, or extremely difficult, we also don’t want to portray it as a quick fix. Sometimes finding the right therapist, medication, or self-care practice involves trying things that don’t work immediately. Seek input from mental health advisors and those with lived experience to accurately represent the treatment process in a balanced, authentic way.

Download / print

more in part 6