Guest post by Julie Almendral, Senior Producer, Mental Health Channel
2015 was an eventful year for positive mental health messages in online media. Celebrities like actress Lena Dunham and rapper Kendrick Lamar came out of the so-called mental health closet, bravely engaging in honest conversations about their challenges. Outlets like Upworthy and The Huffington Post grew their focus on positive mental health messaging. Over the past year it has felt like we’re on the verge of a cultural shift in how we think and talk about mental health in our society.
At MHC (the Mental Health Channel) we aim to contribute to that shift through producing engaging, high quality videos that have broad appeal. We’re particularly interested in reaching young adults. This audience faces particular mental health issues as they transition into adulthood, but they’re also our future thought leaders, cultural influencers and policymakers with the potential to shape societal perspectives. Here are a few encouraging examples of youth-focused representations of mental health in online media that indicate we’re heading in the right direction.
A Monthly Mental Health Film Festival’s Winner: “Three”
We discovered Art With Impact while researching in advance of our own online film festival. AWI facilitates mental health communication and learning for young people through art and media. They host an ongoing online film festival that awards monthly prizes to mental health-related short films, and feature those films in events at schools across the country.
AWI’s June 2015 winner, “Three,” is a narrative short providing a glimpse into the lives of three students with different mental health issues. One woman’s OCD keeps her from arriving at a tap dance audition in time, a young man’s bulimia is exacerbated by student life, and a student’s social anxiety impedes her quest for acceptance. “Three” shows the behind-the-scenes struggles that any classmate or coworker might deal with throughout the course of a normal day. The beauty of this film is its simplicity: it adeptly captures small moments that make these big issues very real. The message is subtle, and in the end the students find themselves together, persevering through their individual obstacles and finding their way.
A Very Likeable Integration of Mental Health into Mainstream Media: Please Like Me
I recently became aware the television series, Please Like Me, which I instantly fell in love with. The show is a production of the Australian Broadcasting Company broadcast on Pivot, a relatively new cable network from socially conscious Participant Media, which targets the young adult demographic. This series displays a key sign of acceptance in mainstream media: honest, respectful and fully integrated representations of mental health issues. This is not a show specifically about mental health. Rather, it is about a young man’s life. In episode 1 of season 1, we meet Josh as he gets dumped by his long-term girlfriend, begins to accept his own homosexuality, and learns that his mother with bipolar disorder has just attempted suicide. The show’s title hints at Josh’s knack for awkward social interactions, but he’s remarkably funny, endearing and easily likeable. Please Like Me approaches heartbreak, depression, anxiety, friendship, trust, and a slew of other issues as accepted and undeniable elements of life. The third season of Please Like Me, which I look forward to binge watching, premiered on Pivot in October. The first two seasons are available on Hulu.
The Power of One Individual’s Story: “Best Day Ever”
MHC continues to produce documentary content targeting a young adult audience. Our MHC Student Films series features mental health-related short films made by students, many of which feature student perspectives and young adults. Our Critical Years series specifically features young adults who are dealing with mental health issues, and topics run the gamut from aging out of foster care to the stress of being a college athlete. A highlight of this year’s releases in Critical Years is “Best Day Ever.” This is a beautifully cinematic short film about Grace Kim, a young woman who faces her depression and learns to live her best day ever, every day. The film’s strength is in Grace’s self-awareness of her journey through dark times, and the bold, life-embracing way she overcame them. I’ll let you watch to learn the details, but it is a lovely story that anyone who has ever felt at odds with their own identity could relate to.
MHC will continue to reach young adults through a university screening program we’re launching in conjunction with the broadcast of our Mental Health Matters series on select PBS stations throughout the spring. Keep an eye out for screenings in your area and please join the conversation!
Here’s to hoping 2016 prolongs the trend of quality mental health media for young adults, and paves the way for more open conversations.
Happy New Year!
Picture: Grace Kim in “Best Day Ever.” Credit: Mental Health Channel