We often hear about celebrities with addictions from various news outlets.
Addiction and mental health issues can affect anyone. In fact, about 19% of all U.S. adults have dealt or are currently dealing with a mental illness, according to a national survey held by SAMHSA in 2017.
The Role of Media in Drug Abuse
It has been shown that the media contributes to the stigma of mental illness through poor language choice, shocking or comical images and exaggerated and inaccurate portrayals.
Dozens of research studies conclude that the type of news coverage presented affects the likelihood of drug abuse and suicide in vulnerable individuals.
The media disservices the public when mental health issues are presented dramatically. Untreated drug and alcohol abuse, mental health disorders and death are public health issues.
Is the Media Glamorizing Mental Illness?
One professional study found that young people have over 250 labels used to stigmatize people with mental illness. The media propagating these labels sensationalizes and glamorizes the pain families go through when a loved one dies from mental illness. Some journalists even degrade victims of suicide with language like “crazed” or “disturbed”.
The personal stories of celebrity overdoses and the promotion of anorexia, among other things, are glamorized on social media with widespread images and hashtags. Romanticizing stories of overdose and self-harm is influential.
What Are the Repercussions of Sensationalized Reporting?
When a repetitious story describes the method of suicide in explicit terms, the risk for individual suicide increases.
This sensationalized dispersion of information, though skewed, has many believing people with mental illness are violent.
Actually, people struggling to deal with mental issues are statistically less likely to commit violent acts than people without mental illness. In fact, many people suffer mentally because of the violence and abuse they have suffered at the hands of someone else.
Roadblocks to Recovery
It can be hard to get treated for mental health and addiction issues for a number of reasons, like:
- Availability or access to quality services
- Not knowing where to start
- The illness itself preventing the energy or motivation necessary to seek treatment
But perhaps the most stifling reason people don’t get medical treatment is the pervasive stigma around mental health.
Do Health Stigmas Still Exist Today?
Some of us would cringe at hearing, “Oh my! They are in a mental hospital? How awful!” or, “Wow, they were in a facility. They must be nuts.” Yet these archaic ideas still exist among those unfamiliar with mental health conditions.
When a person breaks their leg or develops cancer, people don’t judge them because they have a health condition. However, when someone deals with a mental health condition, that person does not receive the same sympathy.
Depression, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse are diseases affecting the brain.
Unfortunately, people with mental health difficulties are still among the most stigmatized demographic.
What People Fear
Sadly, only about half of people suffering from mental health conditions will ever get treatment.
People worry about:
- Losing employment
- Losing relationships
- Being ostracized
- Losing custody of a child
- Difficulty obtaining future employment
And these fears are not entirely unwarranted. Admitting to a history of mental illness can potentially impact these things in America.
How Stigma Impacts Addiction Treatment
Unfortunately, those with mental health issues internalize what is preached in popular society and develop self-stigma. These toxic beliefs discourage them from seeking treatment.
People often feel disgraced about seeking treatment because of the negative associations. Songs about drugs rarely encourage addiction treatment and can put one at risk.
Additionally, those struggling with drug and alcohol problems often feel downtrodden because of their illness and are embarrassed to seek treatment.
How Can You Help?
These things are improved by diligent and accurate media reporting:
- Myths and misperceptions are dispelled
- The public becomes more knowledgeable and supportive regarding mental health concerns
- People at risk are more apt to get help
However, there are ways we can make a positive impact on mental health awareness.
Complain to News Outlets
News outlets being careful about how they report on suicide can change things. When you hear comments about mental health that are inappropriate, you can contact those responsible, whether a news source or social media.
Help Someone You Know
As people become more educated on mental illness and become more accepting, healing can take place.
If you know someone that is dealing with substance abuse, you can help them seek drug and alcohol treatment. Dispelling stigmas one person at a time, you can encourage families and individuals to take the steps necessary to get well.
There are a number of other ways you can help reduce mental health stigma, and every effort truly helps make a difference – no matter how small.
Breaking the Chains
There are many instances of people, including celebrities, that have overcome their addictions and mental health problems, including suicidal crises.
Mental health conditions are treatable. You don’t have to suffer alone. Things do get better for those who get the right help.
If you or someone you care about is going through suicidal struggles, you can go to the ER and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They also have an option to chat online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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