Diversify Representation - Mental Health

Top Storytelling Tips

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  1. Portray underrepresented communities
    1. Represent diverse characters and communities in mental health storylines to help viewers from all backgrounds feel seen, recognize warning signs, and seek help when they need it.

A recent study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed that many communities and groups are underrepresented in mental health storylines in television and film. Results from this study’s review of the top 100 films and highest rated TV shows of 2016 found the following:

  • Only 20% of portrayals of mental health conditions in film and 31 percent of those on television were from an underrepresented racial group, despite the fact that these groups represent almost 70% of individuals living with mental health conditions in America.
  • There were no LGB characters in films with mental health conditions, and only 8 in TV shows. 
  • There were no representations of mental health conditions from these groups: Hispanic/Latinx, Middle East/Northern African, Native American, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.

There is also underrepresentation in the types of people experiencing specific mental health challenges in entertainment media. For example, storylines around cutting/self-injury or eating disorders often involve white females. In reality, people of any gender or culture can experience these issues.

Additionally, some cultures have unique barriers to help-seeking, like cultural norms that view talking about difficult feelings as a sign of weakness, or lack of access to quality care. Members of these groups might not see help-seeking or discussions around mental health modeled in their real world community, so depictions in television and film are powerful opportunities to expand perspectives and encourage positive action. In fact, research has shown that viewers are more likely to seek help when they see a mental health professional on screen who shares a similar background.

Look for opportunities to expand representation in the stories you are telling — and ensure that the storytelling feels authentic — so more people who are struggling feel seen and understood and know that help-seeking can be an effective option. Sections in this guide on specific identities and communities can help you better understand realities around prevalence and community-specific mental health factors to tell these stories in an impactful way.

Television and film depictions are powerful opportunities to model help-seeking and productive conversations about mental health.

Look for opportunities to expand representation in the stories you are telling — and ensure that the storytelling feels authentic — so more people who are struggling feel seen and understood and know that help-seeking can be an effective option. Sections in this guide on specific identities and communities can help you better understand realities around prevalence and community-specific mental health factors to tell these stories in an impactful way.

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more in part 6