Stereotypes of Mental Health in Pop Culture

Key Points about Mental Health and Pop Culture

  • Mental health awareness is on the rise. Discussions and depictions of mental illness may still not be completely normalized, but with greater communication and awareness, there is increased hope that the stigma of mental illness will continue to diminish and understanding will increase, prompting more people to seek treatment for mental health disorders.
  • Mental illness is common. In fact, mental, neurological, and substance use disorders make up 10 percent of the world’s illnesses. In the U.S., one in five adults lives with a mental illness.
  • Accurate depictions of mental health in pop culture can support understanding of mental illness. After all, media is a significant source of information for the public.
  • Pop culture infuses our daily lives and has the power to shape identities. With accurate portrayal of mental illness and effective treatments, those living with mental illness, their loved ones, and society may gain a better and more realistic understanding of mental health and the accessible, supportive help that is available for those living with mental illness.

If you or a loved one is concerned about mental illness or would like to discuss mental health, please seek help. MyTherapist is trusted resource for advice and to connect with a licensed mental health professional.

Mental Health Pop Culture

Frequent stereotypes of mental illness in pop culture include:

  • Portraying those who are living with mental illness as violent, criminal, or overly dramatic.
  • Depicting characters who are unwilling to seek help for mental illness.
  • Portraying mental health professionals as cold or harsh.
  • Glorifying or romanticizing suicide or suicidal thinking.
  • Portraying mental illness as a person’s entire existence or defining characteristic.

Why stereotypes of mental illness can be dangerous:

  • Highlighting fatalistic or faulty thinking may serve as negative examples of managing mental illness or adversity.
  • A lack of characters who handle mental illness successfully may perpetuate feelings of hopelessness.
  • Depictions of unhelpful therapists or unsuccessful treatment may deter people from seeking help. 
  • When stereotypes are viewed as reality, they may create unrealistic perceptions of mental illness for both those living with mental illness and the public.

Myth busters—Realities of Mental Health:

  • Mental health issues are common and are very often not obvious to others. Approximately 20% of adults in the U.S. are living with mental health disorders.
  • Children can experience mental health disorders, but fewer than 20% receive needed treatment.
  • People experiencing mental health disorders do not, in most cases, experience stereotypical extremes of unpredictability, violence, or severe mood swings.
  • People with mental health disorders can, in most cases, hold a job, maintain relationships, lead a fulfilling life, and be active members of the community.
  • Mental health disorders do not occur because of weaknesses or character flaws.
  • Signs of mental illness are frequently not obvious. They can hide in plain sight.
  • There is hope for people living with mental illnesses. Recovery is possible. Effective treatments are available. Compassionate, knowledgeable, professional mental healthcare providers are accessible.
  • There are protective factors for mental health, such as minimizing exposure to trauma, having strong support systems in place, developing resilience and coping skills, consciously working on having a positive mindset, expressing gratitude for what is going right, and learning how to question and reframe negative thought patterns.
  • Mental illness is not a one-sided narrative. It is nuanced and personal, and effective, personalized treatment is available.

Raising Awareness of the Realities of Mental Health and Mental Illness

  • Accurately depicting mental health and treatment in pop culture can help fight the stigma of mental disorders that millions of people experience.
  • Realistic portrayals may empower people to seek help. Everyone should know that they are not alone, healing is possible, there is no shame in experiencing a mental disorder, and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
  • With positive representations of mental illness and optimistic outcomes, mental illness can be depicted more realistically, instead of being romanticized, demonized, or glamorized.
  • Content of pop culture has the potential to teach people how to recognize signs of mental illness and how to help support and help friends, family members, and themselves.
  • A helpful message that can be sent to de-stigmatize mental illness is that mental illness is not uncommon, treatment from helpful, compassionate licensed mental healthcare professionals is available and effective, supporting someone living with mental illness is entirely possible, and, very importantly, there is hope and healing for those experiencing mental illness, as well as their loved ones.

Stereotypes of Mental Health in Pop Culture 2

Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with MyTherapist.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.


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