Understanding Mental Health Literacy: A depiction through cinema

Individuals all over the world struggle from issues of mental health and are often apprehensive about seeking help for such problems. In certain parts of the world, awareness is minimum to the level that people are unable to recognize the signs and symptoms of various mental health issues they or their loved ones may be suffering from. Viewing mental health problems as a stigma or identifying people going through tough times as “crazy” is a way that has become common in society and may be perceived as insensitive. Creating mental health awareness is the need of the hour as in the absence of it, impacted individuals might not be able to understand signs of distress within themselves or the people they care about. 

It is common knowledge that physical health is often accepted by society and is considered “normal”. On the contrary, this is not necessarily the case with mental health issues. As a society, we often fail to understand the paradigms of mental health and leave no stone unturned to invalidate those who are suffering, this can cause serious implications in the future as mental health is not observable like in the case of physical health. Hence talking about our feelings and mental health issues is very important. 

Do you know Abraham Maslow introduced the concept of free emotional expression?  According to this theory, individuals should be able to express whatever it is they are feeling without the fear of being judged. Although a large section of society does not recognise the importance of this concept and does not pay any heed to it, eventually those bottled up feelings lead to distress in people’s lives. I am sure all of us can agree that we have certain issues that we refrain from talking about because society has termed the portrayal of emotions as a sign of weakness. The society has certain norms that we all should follow; anything deviant from societal norms is considered abnormal, talking about feelings and mental health issues are one of them.

Various shows and movies attempt to portray mental health issues in a serious light for people to be able to gain knowledge through a source of entertainment. Some of these are –

  1. Bojack Horseman (Netflix) – It is a series that has used animals as a medium to portray the struggles that are normally more prevalent in humans. The protagonist of the show is a troubled horse with a complicated family history which resulted in forming psychological issues and conflicts that he attempts to deal with. He is portrayed as an  self- loathing alcoholic in his 50s, whose acting career boomed when he starred in a sitcom called Horsin’ Around. Initially, he is seen as an actor with a promising career, but due to his self- deprecating behaviour, he becomes harsh, depressed and had a hard time dealing with it. Although his intentions are well intended, due to his insecurities, lack of nurturing parents, his uncontrollable need for approval and guilt arising out of his actions lead to an environment of self-damaging behaviour that unintentionally demolished those around him. 
  2. A Beautiful Mind (Amazon Prime) – The movie revolves around a man by the name of John Nash. Based on a true story, Nash was a mathematician diagnosed with schizophrenia and despite his struggles and relapse went on to achieve a Nobel Prize for his contribution in the field of Mathematics.  This movie showcases how life does not end after a diagnosis; with proper treatment, an individual can lead a normal life, without the diagnosis holding you back.
  3. This Is Us – It is an award-winning television show that captures the struggles of a family, wherein each individual suffers from their everyday mental health battles like anxiety, substance abuse, PTSD and more which they find difficult to work through. It is a story of how they deal with their issues and support one another in the process.
  4. Dear Zindagi – This movie revolves around an independent female cinematographer, Kiara who had disturbed interpersonal relationships arising out of unpleasant childhood experiences and how she goes on to seek therapy for the same. Dear Zindagi also helps us understand that individuals who seek therapy may not necessarily have a diagnosis. Individuals can seek therapy even if they are facing some emotional or personal distress that comes in the way of their ability to be happy.

The next question is what are the benefits of spreading awareness? Being aware of mental health issues and disorders has plenty of benefits like –

Awareness helps in understanding and recognizing the early signs and symptoms of mental illness. If one is aware of mental health issues, it might provide them with the knowledge of how to support those who are suffering. As mentioned above, therapy is considered a stigma in our society; hence awareness can act as a medium in removing the stigma attached to therapy. Educating oneself can help understand the various challenges faced by individuals who are struggling and how it affects them.

So, the real question ahead of us comes to be, how do we encourage and create awareness regarding such mental health issues?

Communicating: Communication is very important. When we communicate with people, it broadens our horizons and makes us aware of our surroundings and pressing issues. If we make a conscious effort to talk about mental health freely, we are more likely to encourage people to do the same. 

Learning about various disorders: trying to educate ourselves about various disorders, their signs and symptoms, nature and treatments help us understand their implications and how to better support those who are affected by it. Awareness also helps in being able to observe unhealthy patterns within such individuals.

Using social media as a platform to speak/ promote mental health conversations and therapy: there are a multitude of therapists on social media providing useful resources and content in understanding various related issues. It is helpful to follow them and share their content to educate oneself and others.

Include children in conversations regarding mental health – Conversations like these with children will help increase their knowledge and as a result,  they will learn to be open about their feelings and emotions. This will help them in having a healthy mind.

Creating awareness can help save and improve our lives as well as lives of individuals associated with us. Mental health issues are serious but due to the lack of awareness and stigma associated with it, people still are hesitant in seeking therapy because they do not wish to become an outcast in society. One of the most recent cases is of Sushant Singh Rajput who committed suicide. Sushant was diagnosed with depression. Various other celebrities have talked about their struggles like Deepika Padukone from depression, Honey Singh from bipolar disorder and Robert Downey Jr. against addiction. Mental Health disorders are treatable with a variety of treatment options available. With proper treatment, the individual can lead a meaningful and happy life.

#Content created by Kavya Tripathi

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