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.