Suzie, August 4, 2020

It only takes one  bad representation  of mental health to  reinforce pre-existing  stereotypes.

At 16 years old I sat in my first therapy session and was told that I “had no real reason for having depression”. I was doing well in school, I had plenty of friends and there was no single particular traumatic event that had triggered the decline of my mental health. According to my therapist this made it impossible for me to feel anxious or depressed. After two more sessions I was totally convinced that I’d manifested these feelings myself and actually had perfect mental health, so I left.

Now, at aged 21, I can look back and see how I ignored my own mental health because I didn’t show the typical signs that are stereotyped by society.

Imposter syndrome, or the feeling of being a fraud, is a common experience felt in many situations, especially those in high-achieving roles. Imposter syndrome creates an extreme amount of self-doubt and ultimately leads to self-sabotage. In a way, I created my own imposter syndrome surrounding mental health, making myself believe that I was faking my own depression and anxiety disorder. Even when I was taking anti-depressants and attending regular sessions, I was committed to the imagined fact that I was making it up.

Whenever I tried to get help, there would always be a voice in the back of my mind saying that I was making it up and overthinking my problems, thinking there was an issue when there wasn’t. I would constantly refuse myself help because there was always someone out there worse off than me. I believed that if I was getting help, I was taking up time that could have been used by someone who really needed it.

Attending therapy, in turn, made my mental health worse. I would stress myself out thinking that I was fooling people and that I didn’t deserve to get help. Even now I feel uncomfortable discussing my mental health. I often think that if I open up to someone about how I’m feeling I won’t be believed and will be told similar things to what I have been in the past.  

The portrayal of mental health in the media had such an impact on my thinking and I was constantly comparing my own experiences to those seen on television. I sometimes feels like producers try to tick every mental health box when introducing a storyline that follows the subject – and I willingly bought into the stereotypes that I was being shown.

Mental health representation in television feels like such a wasted opportunity. With such a huge platform, producers could use this to explore the reality of mental health. I’ve definitely noticed an increase in realistic plotlines surrounding mental health in television. Shows such as Crazy Ex Girlfriend explores the romanticising of mental health and breaks down terms like ‘crazy’ and ‘psycho’.

Unfortunately, it only takes one bad representation of mental health to reinforce pre-existing stereotypes.

Whether it’s the aggressive character suffering from BPD or the skinny obsessive calorie counting anorexic, there’s always opportunity to underpin people’s views on mental health blurring the lines between television and real-life struggles with mental health.

My issue was that I whole-heartedly believed the stereotypes I had seen on television. I wasn’t the typical ‘depressed’ teenager who never left the house and had anger issues. I put my insomnia, hopelessness and self-harming tendencies down to other reasonings, like I was just having a bad day or I was stressed because of work. I never associated this with my mental health issues because, in my mind, I didn’t have any.

It’s taken me years to connect to dots between the problems I’ve been experiencing and my mental health. I’ve finally accepted that I haven’t been imagining these problems, allowing myself to get the help I need.

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