Misuse of mental health terms in teen TV influencing perceptions

24 January 2020 . United Kingdom

  • Mental health terms are used twice an episode in teen TV, but nearly half of mentions are dismissive, mocking or humorous
  • Half (50%) of parents believe their children’s knowledge of mental health mostly comes from popular culture, influencing their perceptions of mental health conditions
  • There is a growing crisis in young people’s mental health and an increasing need for support and information aimed at children
  • The Bupa UK Foundation and charity Mind have partnered to help young people and their families access mental health resources online to help improve their mental health

Analysis of popular teen TV programmes reveals that mental health issues are regularly portrayed in a negative light, potentially deterring young people from coming forward with concerns. 

Independent analysts commissioned by Bupa examined over 30 hours of programming (52 episodes) aimed at teens and found that mental health descriptors including “crazy”, “mad”, “psycho” “depressed” and “insane” were used, on average, twice an episode – with nearly half of mentions found to be dismissive, humorous or mocking1.

The study, which also consulted parents of teenage children, raised concerns that these pop culture influences could be fuelling negative perceptions among young people. Parents confirmed their teens regularly misuse terms such as “crazy”, “mad” and “mental”, which are also the most frequently misused in teen television2. And teens’ understanding of conditions such as schizophrenia, personality disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder is low3.

Half (50%) of parents believe their children’s knowledge of mental health mostly comes from popular culture such as social media, the internet, film and television4, and one in seven (14%) are concerned that their child struggles to separate fact from fiction when it comes to mental health in film and television. Negative perceptions can deter young people from coming forward with concerns leading to treatment and diagnosis delays, with one in five parents (16%) suspecting that their children are hiding mental health symptoms due to embarrassment.  

Latest research from the mental health charity, Mind, shows that one in seven young people now has a diagnosable mental health condition5, demonstrating a growing crisis in young people’s mental health and an increasing need for support and information for children to help them lead mentally healthy lives.

To help address the issue, the Bupa UK Foundation and Mind will be working together to offer young people and their families access to a brand-new set of free and practical online information resources to help improve their mental health – with the aim of reaching 2.5 million young people and their families by the end of 2022.

Luke James, Medical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK, commented: “While featuring mental health in popular culture can build awareness, inaccurate representation could be creating negative stigmas and misconceptions of serious conditions.  Early diagnosis and access to treatment improves the long-term prognosis of mental health conditions, so it is essential that young people are supported so they feel comfortable talking about their worries.” 

Fully funded by the Bupa UK Foundation over three years, Mind’s information resources for children and young people are designed with and for children and young people aged 11-25 to help improve their mental health - in language that speaks clearly to young people and addresses their key concerns.

Luke James continued: “At Bupa, we’ve received a high volume of calls from customers worried about their children’s mental health and we understand that making sense of it all can be tricky sometimes. That’s why we are supporting Mind to create a new set of resources in a language that young people and their families can really understand, to help them feel comfortable identifying conditions and ultimately help them to lead mentally healthy lives.”

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind, said: “We know that young people experiencing mental health problems for the first time may struggle to know where to go for support. That’s why we are so thankful to Bupa for funding this information to equip young people with the tools they need to better look after their mental health.”

Resources on topics such as understanding feelings, opening up and talking to your doctor are already available to everybody at www.mind.org.uk/childrenandyoungpeople and more will be developed over the course of the partnership.

Bupa recently launched its Family Mental Healthline for parents and carers, where trained advisors and nurses provide support and advice on how to talk openly about mental health and what to do next.


Notes to editor

Methodology

Research conducted by Opinium Research amongst 2,004 UK adults (260 parents of teenagers aged 13-19) via online survey between 22-26 November 2019.

Bupa commissioned PCP Research Limited to analyse 30 hours of popular teen television programmes – looking at the sentiment behind each mention.

Third City were commissioned to analyse the scripts of the first two episodes of 26 popular teen programmes to calculate the total number of mentions (52 episodes in total).

Shows analysed: Greenhouse Academy, Degrassi, The Society, Riverdale, On My Block, Gossip Girl, Teen Wolf, Insatiable, Baby, Everything Sucks, Pretty Little Liars, Atypical, Trinkets, Vampire Diaries, Elite, Nowhere Boys, Skins, The End of The Fxxing World, Sex Education, Dance Academy, Glee, The Order, Shadow Hunters, Gilmore Girls, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Between

Footnotes

1Analysis of scripts of 52 episodes of programming found 104 mentions of mental health – an average of two mentions per episode.

Sentiment analysis found that 45% of mentions were dismissive, humorous or mocking, while 55% were accurate / positive in representation.

2The terms mental, crazy and mad made up 63% of mental health mentions analysed by Third City - in contrast parents reported that their children had used the terms crazy (19%), mad (16%) and mental (15%) in a humorous or dismissive context

3Parents reported that they were “not confident” in their child’s understanding of schizophrenia (53%), personality disorder (48%), and post-traumatic stress disorder (47%)

4Parents report that their children draw the majority of their mental health knowledge from television and film (10%), social media (20%) and Internet research (21%)

5 Mind, 2020

About the Bupa UK Foundation and Mind’s work

Together, by 2022 we want to help 2.5 million young people and their families access the information they need to look after their mental health.

Over three years, The Bupa UK Foundation are supporting Mind to develop a brand new set of information resources designed with and for children and young people aged 11-25 to improve their mental health.

The Bupa UK Foundation

The Bupa UK Foundation’s purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

We fund and provide practical tools, support and projects to tackle challenges in health and social care that have a direct impact on people's health and wellbeing.

Since 2015, the Bupa UK Foundation has awarded over £1.9 million in grants to 75 projects supporting mental wellbeing.

Together with Mind, by 2022 we want to help 2.5 million young people and their families access the information they need to look after their mental health.

For more information on the Bupa Foundation and Mind partnership, visit www.bupa.co.uk/mental-health/our-campaign/mind-partnership

About Bupa

Bupa's purpose is helping people live longer, healthier, happier lives.

With no shareholders, our customers are our focus. We reinvest profits into providing more and better healthcare for the benefit of current and future customers.

Health insurance accounts for the major part of our business with 16.7m customers and contributes around 75% of revenue. We operate clinics, dental centres and hospitals in some markets, with around 15m customers. We care for around 22,300 residents in our aged care businesses in the UK, Australia, New Zealand and Spain.

We directly employ around 80,000 people, principally in the UK, Australia, Spain, Poland, Chile, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Turkey, the US, Brazil, the Middle East and Ireland. We also have associate businesses in Saudi Arabia and India.

For more information, visit www.bupa.com.

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