A continuation of last week's article.
Trigger warning: mentions of suicide, bullying, and mental illness
3) Depiction of bullies and other people around the characters struggling with mental health
Often people who are suffering from serious mental issues feel that if they disappear, then others will finally sympathize with them and maybe even feel guilty for the way they treated them. And the story takes this sentiment and exploits it even more in the tv show than the book. After Hannah's suicide, all the people who treated her badly or bullied her are shown repenting and regretting. She is treated like a martyr by other characters - which is again another aspect of glorification of suicide. While some people might feel bad about people who ended up killing themselves for a day or two but eventually everyone is going to end up moving on with their lives.
In Backlash, after Lara tries to commit suicide and is being carried away in a stretcher, the person who bullied her does not undergo some magical transformation or starts regretting their actions, rather she clicks a picture of unconscious Lara and uploads it on Facebook. And that is indeed cruel, but that is how most bullies are. So it is wrong to show to the audience that people will change and regret what they did to you after you die because they won't. The only people who will mostly struggle are probably your closest friends and family - an aspect completely left out of Thirteen Reasons Why.
But Backlash touches in great detail how Lara's family is affected due to her illness. Mental illnesses negatively affect not just the person struggling with them but also their loved ones. Hence, it becomes important to not leave the struggles of close friends and family out of the equation. It was good and refreshing to read a story that sensitively depicted the struggles of close loved ones as well.
The media plays a significant role in influencing people's perception of mental health or any other topic for that matter. Therefore, a topic as sensitive as mental health must be depicted in stories with a lot more care and awareness.
Here is a list of some do's and don'ts of incorporating mental health in fiction --
Do consult mental health professionals and people with lived experiences. In order to deliver a realistic and authentic portrayal, it is best to include the perspective of a person who has experienced the same kind of struggles. Furthermore, it is also essential to consult professionals to ensure a safe and accurate depiction.
Don't include explicit graphic details. Research has shown that showing or describing suicide, self-harm, or any other triggering content explicitly makes it more likely for the vulnerable people watching or reading a particular story to commit a similar act. And in case such scenes are added, then make sure to include the right trigger warnings and still stay away from portraying anything too explicitly.
Do tell positive stories of mental health. It is much better to show examples of people struggling with mental health doing well rather than reinforcing a negative image or negative stereotypes. Many pieces of research have proven that stories which show that people suffering from mental health issues can recover and live meaningfully have helped to create a positive impact on the audience.
Don't give your characters the wrong mental illness. Make sure to do proper research on various kinds of mental illness and again refer to mental health professionals before diagnosing your characters with any mental illness. Also, personality disorders and mental illnesses are not the same; make sure to understand the differences between the two.
Do use civil and respectful language. There is a certain kind of negative terminology associated with mental illness, words such - crazy, psycho, and looney which should to be avoided as they add to the already existing stigma, stereotypes, and discrimination.
If you or someone you know is suffering from any kind of mental illness, you can refer to this link to find various helplines - https://checkpointorg.com/global/
is a young writer from India who is currently pursuing Mass Media. Apart from reading and writing, she spends most of her time daydreaming and listening to music. You can find her on Instagram at @aastha.1703