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Why It's Crucial We Start Portraying Psychotic Disorders Accurately in the Media

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For those familiar with the stigma associated with mood or psychotic disorders, this one’s for you. I have seriously reflected on the many factors that played a role in receiving the correct diagnosis which had evaded me for 23 years. These factors I give credit to are my family, friends, therapists and my doctors — many, many doctors. The time had come where I was able to accept my condition and “new” life in strides, but with that came feelings of resentment of the past.

How did I not catch this sooner? Why did I not know this is what was actually happening? Why wasn’t I able to tell someone I needed real help?

With these thoughts, I had grown bitter toward the “mental health media” with their awful representation of people with psychotic disorders, which usually involved someone drooling on themselves or someone who was vicious and violent. The dangerous psych patient — my favorite narrative… not!

It bothered me to my core that everywhere I found a mental health term mentioned on my social media, it was almost certain to be followed with false information or misrepresentation. I had this diagnosis and I couldn’t see myself in the media I was being told I was represented by.

This was the moment where advocacy for myself was slowly set into motion. I didn’t see myself in the “mental health media” because I wasn’t being accurately represented. I was being told by movies I must be psychotic 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but I only felt off sometimes, therefore I must not be experiencing psychosis. I was convinced through news channels everyone with schizophrenia was a murderer; therefore, I could not possibly have schizophrenia. I was being told experiencing mania meant you wanted to dye your hair different colors once a month, but I kept my natural hair color; therefore, I could not have bipolar disorder.

I fed myself all of this false information, creating this unconscious bias about what it meant to live with a severe and persistent mental health condition. This resulted in me, quite frankly, lying to my doctors about what I was experiencing.

I thought if I told the truth, it meant I would officially be the person sitting in the corner drooling on herself, or the person who was too violent to be part of the “outside” world. It meant I became that false representation I saw every time I scrolled through Twitter or watched the latest psych thriller. But how do you become something that doesn’t exist? Trick question! You can’t.

You can’t become what the media tells you you are, because it doesn’t exist.

When I started being honest with my doctors, a new world of recovery was presented to me. What I kept referring to as “anxiety” was found to be delusions. My poor decisions and behavior was explained to me as mania. My negative self-talk wasn’t actually self-inflicted at all, but auditory hallucinations that kept telling me how awful I was.

There was still no sign of drool anywhere, at least not that I noticed.

The importance of accurate representation in the media is so crucial for young people with mental health disorders, especially now with their whole world online. Positive representation promotes acceptance and understanding for people who may know someone with a psychotic disorder. Understanding from others breaks down barriers and stigma surrounding mental health diagnoses, which, in turn, helps young people get the help they need.

For anyone in the media or anyone who posts on mental health social media, let us do better by the mental health community by representing our young people with mental illness in an accurate and bright light. Let’s make sure our facts are correct and let’s make sure these young people can see themselves in the content we create.

Wondering where you can find some amazing mental health media? Here are some of my favorites!

Getty image by demaerre

Originally published: April 6, 2020
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