Step 4: Expand Your Vision; Increase Your Impact - Mental Health

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  1. When developing content relating to mental health, consider ways to tweak your approach to expand the positive impact on your audience.
  2. Ask yourself: Is this story inclusive and diverse? Does it promote open conversation about mental health? Are there ways to model help-seeking, peer support, and positive treatment experiences? Are we including resources for viewers?  

You’ve identified your project’s mental health themes, determined how you will work with your subject matter expert(s), and made an initial list of potential risks and pitfalls. Now it’s time to look at your script or treatment, casting, and overall production plan to identify if there are any opportunities to tweak your approach to make a more positive impact.  

Below is a set of questions to consider that tie back to this guide’s primary Top Storytelling Tips. If your story includes a mental health condition, character(s) from a group dealing with unique mental health factors, or a negative outcome like substance misuse or suicide, you should review the corresponding parts of this guide to better understand the mental health dynamics of your specific storyline. 

In Fleabag, Phoebe Waller Bridge’s self titled protagonist deals with an immense amount of grief, depression, and guilt. (Image Courtesy of Amazon Prime Studios)

Diversify Representation: When people see characters and cast members who share a similar background discussing mental health in a storyline, they may be more likely to open up about their own challenges. For example, research shows that people are more likely to seek help if they see a mental health professional on screen who reflects their identity or experiences. Are there opportunities in your project to cast talent that can expand mental health representation in underrepresented communities?  

Show Conversations About Mental Health and Help-Seeking: One of the factors that puts people at higher risk for mental health struggles or negative outcomes is fear of speaking up or the belief that reaching out for help is a sign of weakness. Do you have the opportunity to show conversations about mental health to help normalize asking for help?

Depict Effective, Realistic Help-Seeking and Treatment: If your story involves help-seeking or a mental health professional, is there a way to portray the process of reaching out for help or a first-time therapy experience to help get the audience more comfortable with that process? Likewise, if there is a mental health professional or self-care practice being portrayed in a negative or ineffective light, is there an opportunity to also show how these types of support can be helpful and effective?

Highlight the Power of Coping Skills and Self-Care: Are there self-care or wellness practices that are proven to be effective for the mental health conditions, challenges, or situations in your storyline that can be integrated into the narrative? If you are portraying life events that are frequently connected with mental health struggles (getting comfortable with sexuality, breakups, communication problems), are there opportunities to integrate coping strategies — like meditation, support groups or journaling — that the research or perspectives of those with lived experience say helped them manage or overcome those issues?

Move Past Stereotypes: If your character is dealing with a mental health condition or challenge, are there ways your story can counteract negative stereotypes or address common hurdles that people with real life experience in this area say they face? If your story involves someone with a mental health condition who is taking actions that could reinforce negative misconceptions, is there an opportunity to counteract this with additional portrayals or in other scenes?

Provide Resources and Calls to Action: Is there a real resource (text support service, phone support line, mental health app) that can be integrated into your storyline or a character/cast member’s experience to promote these resources in a direct and tangible way?

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more in part 6