How The Media Glamorizes Depression

October 8, 2019  |  
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depression portrayed in the media

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I can’t imagine it’s easy being a television or film writer, and having the very delicate task of handling depression in a script. If the old myth is true that most writers are depressed, then perhaps when we see depression depicted in the media, the creators behind that image were speaking from personal experience. But, as someone who went through serious depression for several years, I can attest to the fact that, in hindsight, we never want to or even can see our depression for how dark and terrible it really was. I have the inclination to talk about the sexier and more intriguing elements of it but the reality is, nothing about it felt sexy or intriguing at the time. I can’t help but wonder if writers have the same inclination, because the way I see depression depicted in the media seems to be a glorification—and a dangerous one at that.

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Depressed people “saving” each other

How many films show two depressed individuals finding one another and lifting each other up? They fall in love, and suddenly, two depressed people cancel each other out and become two happy people. That is not what happens in real life. Two depressed individuals together create the perfect storm that destroys both of them. They bring each other down, back and forth, in a terrible cycle.

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Depressed individuals are witty and vocal

Often, the depressed protagonist of a show will be very witty. She’ll be charmingly sarcastic and funny. She doesn’t smile often, but she makes others laugh with her acute observations and sharp satire. Honestly, truly depressed individuals don’t usually even care enough to talk that much or formulate a joke.

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They turn to the bottle, then go off it

It’s common to see someone in a film or show who turns to drinking while she’s depressed. She drinks a lot. She drinks for breakfast and has a flask on hand at all times. Then, when she works out her life, she stops drinking. So, that’s not really what happens. In real life, if someone drinks that much, they will form an addiction and it will take a very long time and hard work to overcome it.

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Depression is essential for creativity

The depressed artist. We see it all of the time. The troubled and brooding individual who creates incredible poems or paintings or books but hates his life and spends all his time in a bathrobe in an isolated cabin. Due to this depiction, too many young, malleable teens and adults believe that they should not treat their depression as it would kill their creativity.

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Depression makes you thin

How do we see depressed individuals on the big screen? They are thin. They are often gorgeous, in their gaunt way. True depression comes with severe neglect that leaves someone looking so terribly sad and ill—it doesn’t leave them looking like a Vogue model.

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Depression = no insecurities

There is often a freedom that appears to come with depression in films. The depressed individual cares so little about anything at all that she doesn’t have a drop of self consciousness left. She doesn’t give a damn what others think about her. That probably looks rather liberating to some individuals. But it’s not real. Or rather, it’s not fun and it’s not healthy. There must be some concern for the feelings and thoughts of others for our relationships to survive.

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A depression buddy gets you out of it

Sometimes, the main character—a depressed individual—in a movie will find another depressed individual to become friends with. The nature of the relationship isn’t romantic, but it causes the same problem as two depressed people falling in love. These two friends will not—in spite of what it looks like on TV—save one another. When one is really depressed, it’s best to be around those who are well—they need to go towards uplifting and stable individuals.

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Happy people are annoying

Then let’s not forget how happy people are depicted. They’re annoying. They’re too perky. They’re oblivious to things. How often do we see a film in which the depressed individual is the only tolerable person and everyone around her is happy and very annoying. So the message is: emotional stability makes someone insufferable? Great.

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Happy people don’t understand pain

Happy people can also be depicted as naïve and having never experienced any pain in their lives, incapable of understanding what the depressed individual is going through. So, here is the real deal: there are a lot of happy individuals who are happy not because they’ve never had pain, but because they overcame their pain. But they are still emotionally intelligent.

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There are depressed people, and dumb people

That last point brings me to my next one, which is that often, happy people are depicted as dumb in films where the protagonist is depressed. You can either be depressed and smart, or happy and dumb—evidently.

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Depression gives you truth goggles

Take your Marc Maron types, for example. He’s the first to point out harsh but true things about human existence. There are many fictional characters modeled after such a personality. They understand people very well, and are miserable. But, happy people can understand people well, too. And truly depressed individuals are usually in too much of a terrible fog to really even reflect, accurately, on the human condition.

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There’s one, simple cause

In some cases, a person can point to one cause—one event—that sent her into a depression. If she can discover it with a therapist and work through it, she may get better. That’s often the type of story we see when we see a depressed individual in the media. But, sadly, for many individuals, it is not that simple. Clinical and chemical depression is not that clean cut.

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Being off medication=being “yourself”

Finding the proper medication, and then the proper dosage, is never an easy task. That’s something an individual must work on, with a doctor, for quite some time usually. But in TV shows, we see just two sides of it: we see the individual on medication, numb, dull, zombie-like, and then we see him off medication, animated and “himself” again. But with the right medication, someone can be well and still be himself. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.

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Quirky and dynamic support groups

Support groups are excellent resources for those struggling with depression. In fact, if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health condition, finding a support group can be tremendously helpful. But, they may not be the quirky group of dynamic individuals with interesting and funny stories that we see on TV. It will be a group of humans who are really struggling.

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The depiction of substances

It looks so sexy in media about depressed individuals. They have this seduction going on with cigarettes or other substances. They make that stuff look good, and they really shouldn’t.

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