Why Is The Media Still Not Able To Respectfully Report About Mental Illness
The media-at-large has never been respectful or even tactful when it comes to the reportage of celebrities who are struggling with personal issues. The standard default seems to require the accompaniment of enough salaciousness to turn their handicap into a gripping soap opera.
As someone who grapples with the challenges of depression, it’s been a horrifying experience to witness the gross negligence on display when A-listers succumb to the effects of their high-visibility — coupled with the burden of trying to maintain some level of sanity as they fight to dominate an industry that’s eating them alive.
Britney Spears is still ceremoniously mocked for that period in her life when all hell broke loose, and her method of retaliation drew the wrong kind of attention. It was easy to splash the images that depicted her at her most vulnerable, while poking fun at the latest superstar to “lose her shit” — as if her “breakdown” provided a boring performance that wasn’t jarring enough to warrant empathy.
Mariah Carey has also endured journalistic assaults that haunted her during the rollercoaster of her career, at a time when it wasn’t cool for stars to openly discuss the taboo subject of mental health. The interviews that depicted a vibrant woman seemingly melting on live television was the signal that something was very wrong. But instead of handling her with the care and consideration that she deserved — she was righteously demeaned with a slew of ill-fated buzzwords that only served as proof of how famous people are mistreated for the righteous sin of being famous.
Carey recently admitted that she has battled bipolar disorder all her life, and was officially diagnosed back in 2001, which is around the time that her “strange behavior” during public appearances was reduced to unfunny punchlines by reckless journalists.
It’s only in the last five or six years, that the subject of mental health has evolved into an issue that we’re being forced to take seriously — with the attitude that demands practiced decorum — and we definitely have the activism of social media to partly thank for that.
It also helps when industry heavyweights like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, and Destiny’s Child’s Michelle Williams bravely step up and step out of the shadow of shame — by publicly sharing the testimonies of their lifelong struggle — in an effort to add dignity and grace to a narrative that’s still very much misunderstood and wildly distorted.
As singer Selena Gomez returns to the headlines with the latest announcement regarding her admission in a mental health facility — the handling of the breaking news by media outlets — exposes the harmful ways in which these types of stories are habitually presented.
The articles about Gomez are produced with emphasis on the phrase “emotional breakdown,” and as if that weren’t bad enough, the link to her ex-boyfriend Justin Bieber is front and center, as a way to beef up the scandal of how his recent surprise marriage to a model may have weakened her.
And in the midst of it all the unnecessary information, we get the real gist of Gomez’s plight that stems from the disappointment of a medical test that revealed troubling details pertaining to the kidney transplant that she underwent in 2017. The procedure definitely took a toll both emotionally and physically and so it’s no surprise that her hospital visits for check ups would prove upsetting if the results raise a red flag.
There’s also the ongoing fight with lupus, which was diagnosed in 2014, and how the debilitating disease also presents challenges that can’t be easy to manage in the public eye.
There has to be a way for the media to be disciplined enough to tread lightly when tackling ultra-sensitive topics that involve human beings who aren’t made of stone.
Celebrities represent a huge chunk of pop culture, and while we enjoy making them the butt of our jokes as a way to entertainingly humanize them, we also have to respect the fact that they have steadfast and impressionable fans, who are invested in their wellbeing.
If the news items about their “emotional breakdown” is dramatically produced with the coldness of editorial disconnect, that aims to divulge as much gossipy fodder as possible, in order to glaze over the clinical aspects of the condition — that only dehumanizes the subject and gives the impression that mental illness is a disease that can manifest when your ex randomly marries someone else.
Or when you defiantly and unapologetically speak your mind without restraint, and with the confidence that leaves many gasping with fascination and scorn at the audacity of your lonely independence.
Using crippling descriptions like “meltdown,” and “freaked out,” isn’t the best tactic, as it paints the picture of a young woman spiraling out of control, which is meant to be the generically acceptable vision of how “crazy people” tend to react when they’re in the thick of it.
The truth is that the most composed and civil-minded people end up being the ones suffering the most, but their ability to flawlessly hide their pain makes it almost impossible to detect their innermost demons.
That’s why depression is a silent killer.
There’s also the ridiculousness of how taking time off from social media is automatically used as the main evidence of dysfunction. It’s no secret that the toxicity of these highly-trafficked platforms, is potent enough to make even the most mentally stable user — vulnerable to the elements of emotional exhaustion.
The media has to work extra hard when it comes to tackling a controversial topic that should be treated with the same efficiency as any other life-threatening ailment.
There should be no room for errors or the pettiness that belittles the validity of the subject’s woes, as a way to downplay how relatable it is, and why her predicament is a great opportunity to encourage and educate readers who are sufferers — on how and where they can get the help they need — if they need it.
When it comes to matters of life and death — all bets are off.
We can’t eat our cake and have it too, which means that the industry may be set up for fun and laughs at the expense of overpaid stars who sometimes do ask for the mockery and online dragging sessions — but at what cost?
When lives hangs in the balance due to circumstances beyond control — representatives of the media have to employ a level of humanity that befits the urgency of mental health — especially when Mental Illness Awareness Week wasn’t that long ago
Faithful readers are also human beings who deserve to be rewarded for the loyalty of non-stop clicks and never-ending traffic. You can start by respectfully adhering to a civil method of handling stricken celebs — that extends to lifesaving measures that make up for the regular shit that we keep accommodating.
It’s more than worth the effort.