Shows About Mental Health: Helpful? Or Harmful?

By Cate Cannon

In the past few years, mental health shows have gained popularity and been engendered at a rapid speed. The question of debate is whether the shows are helpful or harmful. While it brings awareness to various illnesses, the shows are also extremely graphic, which can trigger activation of different mental reactions. 

In 2017, Selena Gomez and Mandy Teefey produced the first season of the teen drama 13 Reasons Why. It highlighted the different sides of depression and gave a very vivid portrayal of suicide. The show, which now has three seasons available on Netflix, received criticism for fantasizing suicide. The National Institute of Mental Health released a statement that the show “was associated with a 28.9 percent increase in suicide rates among U.S. youth ages 10-17”. Local Gainesville schools Eastside High School and P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School sent a letter to parents advising against students watching the show after a tragic suicide by a Gainesville student. 

Degrassi, a show that began in 2001 and had a 14-season run, covered nearly every mental disorder. PTSD, OCD, panic attacks, bipolar disorder, depression, addiction, and anorexia are some of the neuropsychiatric disorders that are discussed. In the early 2000s, mental health was still a very “taboo” subject. In a time where it was disgraceful to have or talk about mental disorders, Degrassi made steps to remove the stigma and expand knowledge of mental health. Since then, it has received various awards for its openness in pushing the conversation about mental health. 

This Is Us, ABC’s hit family series, has focused on male mental health. In a male-dominant society, it is not considered the “norm” for men to express their emotions and admit to weakness. Not many shows delve into the impact of mental illnesses like depression and anxiety on men. Hardly any shows use this for character development rather than creating a villain. This Is Us has made headlines for focusing on the emotional side of its male characters, and allow viewers to see what many males experience and the effects of society forcing men to hide their emotions. 

The consequence of these shows lies in the eye of the beholder. Each show takes different measures to emphasize mental illness and uses a variety of methods to illustrate their points. Based on evidence from reviews by critics, the shows that have made the most drastically negative impacts are the ones that show incredibly graphic scenes, while the ones that discuss the disorders without visual effects seem to strike home in the hearts of viewers. Whether or not the shows are helpful or harmful depends on audience and the content, however, with the exception of overly illustrative shows, most seem to be educational and beneficial to society.