Mental Health in the Media and the World Around Me
Earlier on, mental illness wasn’t really something was talked about , especially not since we were kids and I don’t think the adults in our lives really had the words to describe something like trauma, anxiety, or depression to us since we were so young. I wonder if maybe they just thought these topics were too dark and too heavy, that it would be too much for us to handle. In any case it wasn’t a topic that was dwelt on nor really even mentioned.
At most a mentally ill or disordered person might just have been described as “sick”. In the media I recall a lot of kids TV shows talked about interpersonal stuff like bullying, friendship, family relations, etc but not so much about the INTRApersonal stuff, the personal issues, challenges, and setbacks that life deals us. Maybe an episode or two would have to do with being sad or angry but even then these are everyday natural emotions, and teaching about them really just gains familiarity of emotions when one is healthy, not when one has a disorder and these emotions are overwhelmingly too much to handle. However, for me I was given more media about loss and death to consume given the loss of my mother at a very young age .
I think maybe the very first time I was every truly talked to about mental illness was when some student in the middle school (I was in elementary school at the time) had committed suicide and they had the school counselors talk to us and create a sort of dialogue on the situation so we could comprehend and process it a lot better. Part of their goal was to also prevent this from happening again, of course, so they certainly encouraged us to be there for each other and not hesitate to talk to an adult. It’s been a long time since that talk but I think they mainly covered what suicide was, explained that maybe the kid had troubles at home or something and that he was in this isolated dark place. There unfortunately was no talk about how mental illness could have been at play here.
As I got closer to my teen years, I experienced stuff like bullying while my hormones were raging and my mood was volatile. I ingested a lot of media that matched this state. My earbuds practically glued to my ears, I ardently listened “edgy” music from bands like Linkin Park, My Chemical Romance, Three Days Grace, and others. They gave voice to the intense emotions I was feeling of isolation and loneliness, frustrations and anger with authority (a.k.a. my dad and teachers) and overall angst. Finally there was a form of media that directly addressed these raw emotions and experiences which helped me feel less alone and like I could better express myself. However, I don’t recall much addressed on this topic by the adults in my life as a lot of the emotional and behavioral stuff going on at that time was often seen as part of the whole puberty thing which I think added to the frustrations I had with authority.
During my teen years this attitude toward teens maintained itself which I feel greatly blinded the adults to the very real developments of mental illness in our demographic. In the media however, there began to blossom some literature on the topic in the form of Young Adult Fiction with books written for people my age about what it's like to be that age. Some really captured this while others fell short and ended up just being an adult writing about what he thinks teens like.
The first YA novel that really got through to me was It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini about 15 year old Craig Gilner who, in his life, deals with his fathers pressure for him to do well academically, his massive crush on his best friends girlfriend, and these odd feelings of being a weirdo separate from the world - very relatable issues to pre-teen Andrew. Beyond this, his mental illness is more directly discussed from his perspective as he talks through his socially anxious thoughts, issues with masculinity, feelings of overwhelming pressure, depression, and suicidal ideation. A lot of which became prevalent to a young male such as myself. It also provided a more human face to mental health facillities, as Craig spends most of his coming-of-age journey there with other patients. At the same time, looking back it may have de-demonized those institutions but also made light of the experience of being in such institutions as it used the mental health ward as a vehicle for a general teen coming-of -age journey rather than an actual mental health journey.
Another impactful book for me back then was the Perks of Being a Wallflower, a book about a teen named Charlie who was just starting his freshman year of highschool alone as two seniors take him under their wings. Like other YA novels, he goes on to learn life lesson about love and friendship as well as figuring out who he is but also deals with very real things like trauma, abuse, mental illness, being gay and stuck in the closet, loneliness, and substance issues. In an accessible way I think it provides itself as a good touchstone to education about these things as scenes about Charlie experiencing his aunts death, implications of how his aunts abuse and his aunts abuse of him, him experiencing dissociative episodes, him becoming reliant on substances, and the mental and emotional toll for one of his best friend being gay and in a secret relationship during a time when being gay was not accepted in highschool. These are just some of the what’s covered in the book about these very real issues.
When I wasn’t reading about it , mental illness was becoming more talked about online, or at least on Tumblr, a micro-blogging platform that I frequented. There I found more direct information and resources that were made available about mental illness and self care and other related topics. I steadily felt less alone and more aware about mental health. In addition to this I started watching a lot of video bloggers on youtube who talked about relatable experiences and their own issues among other things, putting a human face on the topic for me to connect to.
While I was reading about this stuff in books and experiencing what parts of what they talk about, mental health continued to not be an overt part of my conversations with my dad or with others. At school they began to talk much more about suicide prevention and what to do to prevent friends from attempting suicide but less on the day to day aspects of mental illness. In health class, we briefly covered the most common mental disorders, watching documentaries about them and such, as well as substance use but never really about how to get help or recognize if you have it. This really just created a general awareness of such disorders coupled with general advice on what to do if we encounter someone with that disorder, never what to do if we ourselves find that we have them.
In the more recent years of later highschool and early university, Tumblr has continued to be a good resource for discussion and information on mental health and mental illness as well as my therapist who has helped my through dealing with past traumas, the extremes of anxiety and depression, and the everyday life of dealing with such disorders. As she did so she provided a somewhat indirect psycho-eduction about mental illness (in a helpful way though) and gave me the tools to handle it. All of what I have and am still learning from here is continually invaluable.
Looking back at the media, I’ve noticed there are many more videos about mental illness on youtube, a lot more kids shows and movies are about mental issues at at younger age and how to deal with it and talk about it (i.e. Steven Universe) which is really wonderful to see. Socially, I’ve noticed it has become more acceptable to mention that you have a mental illness and are going through certain issues although not everyone always knows how to help. In any case mental illness seems to be becoming less taboo and more normalized. I hope education, awareness, and discussion of it only continues to improve
About the Author: Andrew M. Essig
Rather new to Vienna, Andrew has been getting involved in the social scene: going to clubs, concerts, making friends with Vienna’s artistic youth, and attending any sort of festival that he can afford! When not with others, he can be found pondering modern art exhibits or wandering around in nature. Being an intern in another country is teaching Andrew to find balance in his life, taking care of himself and operating as a fully functional adult, while still getting the most out of Vienna. When he goes back home to the U.S. he hopes to bring with him the lessons he learned in U!Shine Vienna as he gets further in his psychology studies in University. For now Andrew looks on his past experiences with mental and emotional health as well as his comprehensive knowledge on the subject to connect with others and help them find the tools within themselves to build a more balanced and healthy life.