Mental Health and TV – Good for All of Us

Today I posted an article over at the American Psychological Association’s blog, Your Mind. Your Body.  In it I write about the importance of portraying mental health issues, struggles and solutions in TV and movies.  Check it out here.

Some of my favorite TV shows regularly integrate important topics in mental health including bullying, suicide, mental illness and family struggles.  The folks over at Glee do a pretty good job (most of the time) accurately portraying mental illness and treatment. Gossip Girl, Hoarders, Parenthood, Monk and Friday Night Lights are other shows that include characters with psychiatric disorders.

Of course there are tons of movies whose main subject is mental illness.  Check out this cool list on Wikipedia listing movies featuring mental illness organized by diagnosis.  Silver Linings Playbook is just 1 of 14 movies listed in the Bipolar Disorder category.

If you want to learn more about some of the great work being done in TV and films, check out SAMHSA’s Voice Awards.  Here’s a description:

Join the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Voice Awards program in recognizing consumer/peer leaders and TV and film professionals who educate the public about the real experiences of people with behavioral health problems. Through their work and personal stories of resilience, both groups of leaders demonstrate that people can and do recover from mental health and substance use disorders and lead full and meaningful lives in their communities.

Today is the deadline to nominate producers and programs! Check out SAMHSA’s site to submit your favorite show by the end of the day!

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Sexuality, Gender and Glee

It’s been a while since I have written about my fave TV show, Glee.  While my newish subscription to Netflix has opened up great new worlds of television programming (Downton Abbey, anyone?), I am still partial to Glee.  As I’ve written before, I love the music, the dancing, and the over the top dialogue.  But this year – perhaps even more than previous seasons – I am appreciative of Glee’s portrayal of gay teens.

Everyone loves Glease!
Photo: Glee on Fox

Glee and its actors have received awards in past years for their representation of teenage homosexuality.  These awards have been well-deserved.  But the cool thing about this season is that the fanfare seems to have died down, but the writers are still doing their thing, writing about love affairs of the straight and gay variety.  It seems to me that sexual preference  has become a bit of a non-issue over at McKinley High.  In fact, one of the newest students seems to be questioning his gender, together with his sexuality.  The sort of live-and-let-live attitude embraced by the fictional folks at McKinley High may not be representative of what is happening at all real life high schools.  But if life does in fact imitate art, sexuality and gender may one day be a sideline issue for all of us.  Something we notice in people but don’t allow to define them.  Something we allow young (and old!) people to explore and express as they may, when they may.

Adolescence can be rough on mental health.  Coping with the stressors of changing bodies, hormones, friends, academics, and the future – even the luckiest kids can struggle with bouts of depression and worry.  Add to the mix questions of sexuality and gender (and perhaps bullying by peers) and the chance of psychological distress can go up significantly.  Programs like Glee which normalize a wide range of sexual expression and gender orientation give all our kids a better chance at navigating the rough road of adolescence with a steady hand.

*Know a LGBTQ teen who is in crisis and in need of help?  Check out the Trevor Project, an organization providing crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth.  Click here for their website, or call 866-488-7386 for their Life Line.

High School Pressure and Glee

Photo by Glee on Fox

Wow.  A lot of potential blog topics were presented on last night’s Glee episode, Asian F.  The one that stuck with me was how they portrayed the pressure the seniors in the New Directions are under.  Pressure to make their mark at school, pressure to find out who they really are, pressure to get accepted into the best college, pressure to pick a career path.  Watching Rachel, Kurt, Finn, and Brittany struggle with these issues brought up memories of my own senior stressors.  Ugh…it wasn’t pretty.

So how can you assist the high schoolers in your life keep things in perspective?

Focus on relationships.  In last night’s episode, Kurt reminded us that it’s not all about accomplishments, but that friendships and treating folks right is important too.  Making and keeping friends, building relationships with mentors, and learning how to successfully interact with others is a crucial part of high school – even though you won’t earn a grade.

There are multiple ways to get there.  Have a child who yearns to be a singer?  Let her know that there are lots of ways to make that happen.  Enrolling in a music conservatory, majoring in music at the local college, or simply singing in the church choir are all ways to incorporate music into her life.  The idea that she HAS to get into one school or program in order to achieve her dreams is a good way to reach stress overload.

Life is long.  Luckily, most of us live fairly long lives.  This means that we have plenty of time to make mistakes, try lots of things, and change our minds a time or two.  Very few 17 year olds know what they want to do with their lives, and that’s OK!  Try to maintain a sense of adventure and openness with your children rather than forcing them to make decisions before it’s developmentally or emotionally appropriate.

Don’t get too attached.  It’s easy as a parent to become attached to ideas our children bring up.  Your son mentions he would like to be a doctor and you assume that will be his reality.  But remember, his job is to change his mind and try out new ideas.  Go with the flow and don’t cling to any idea too hard.  It will drive you both crazy.

Do you know a high school senior frantically trying to bulk up their credentials to get into college?  Know any who are struggling to figure out who they are and what’s important to them?  How do you help them cope?


The Glee Project

Have you been watching The Glee Project this summer on Oxygen?  If not, you are missing out!  The premise of the show is that they are looking for a new character for the real Glee.  The format is sort of like American Idol, except the contestants have to sing, dance, and act.  It’s a great fill-in for those of us who are missing new Glee episodes over the summer, and it is also fun to get a peek behind the scenes of how Glee works.

Photo by: The Glee Project on Oxygen

Photo by: The Glee Project on Oxygen

I was particularly impressed with last week’s episode of The Glee Project.  The contestants were challenged to show their vulnerable side.  The directors didn’t just settle for the kids making sad faces, either.  They had the contestants name, then wear in public (in the form of a painted sign on their chest), their biggest vulnerability.  What could have been hokey was actually pretty moving.  But the thing I liked most was painted on the back of their signs: “U R Not Alone.”

Photo by: The Glee Project on Oxygen

Glee is a pretty darn entertaining show, but the good they have done in helping kids and young adults understand that they are not alone in their struggles is inspiring.  I’m so glad that the show is continuing its good work over the summer.  Goodness knows there are kids who need it.

Know someone who needs help now? Check out the Boys Town National Hotline.  Parents and teens (both boys and girls!) can call 1-800-448-3000 to be connected with counselors and other resources.