How pop culture has helped reduce the stigma of mental illness

Pop culture has helped reduce the stigma of mental illness

As a society, we have gotten conditioned (mainly on a subliminal level) to be celebrity-driven, and we often take our cues from how people in the mass media look, dress and behave.

Pop culture

Studies show that people with mental health issues are often dismissed and sometimes treated as outsiders, particularly within particular cultures.

An Orthodox Jewish woman diagnosed with Bipolar disorder spoke about how her mental health condition has resulted in a heavy stigma, saying that mental illness carries a lot of stigma within her community.

She says that while the Jewish Orthodox community is loving, caring and tight-knit, the lack of education and understanding around mental health often results in people with mental illnesses getting treated as outsiders.


It is evident from the literature that the stigma of mental health continues to spread among many other cultures and not just those in the media.


Depression treatment

For example, a study by The National Asian Women’s Health Organization revealed the depth in which conflicting cultural values have a profound impact on Asian – American women’s sense of control and agency over their lives.

Many Asian -American women observe mental illnesses such as depression running rife through their families but have learned to cultivate a silence around the topic of mental health for fear that they or their families will get stigmatized.

A sign of weakness

Other cultures also experience stigmas around mental health, such as Latino’s and African Americans.

There seems to be a culture of silence around mental illness within these communities, which often means that people suffer in silence.

Research suggests that some Latinos believe mental illness to be a sign of weakness, while others think it is a personal issue that needs to be dealt with alone. 

However, statistics show the prevalence rates for mental health issues within the American Latino community to be significantly high compared to other cultural communities.

Mental health struggles

Some of the literature conducted around African Americans show that people in this community are up to 20% more likely to experience mental health issues compared to the broader population. 

However, they are less likely to seek support, with only 25% of African Americans seeking mental health treatment.

Suicide rates

The suicide rates in Ireland highlighted that the country had gotten recognized as the 17th highest in Europe.

Conversely, it was also the 4th highest for male suicide between the ages of 15-24 who had likely attempted or committed suicide.

Suicidal ideation

Many of the depression rates in Ireland correlate to the decreasing trend of unemployment in recent years, with research showing that the stress and financial difficulties associated with being unemployed may threaten young people’s mental health.

Entertainment media

Mental health stigmatization has also gotten hyped in the media with films such as One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, a 1975 American Psychological Comedy Drama starring Jack Nicholson.

Portrayals of mental illness

Set inside the grey walls of a mental hospital, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest follows a group of mentally ill patients who get labelled as being either ”Acutes” or ”Chronics”.


”Acutes” are patients who have mental health conditions but get considered functional, while the ”chronics” are those who have gotten permanently damaged mainly because of the staff treatments such as shock therapy and lobotomies.

The film portrays the stigma and self-loathing that often gets attached to mental disorders and how, by using labels, a person can often get viewed in a certain way and live up to the titles they have been given.

The hospital has its very own multi-universe with psychiatrists and hierarchies and tells the story of madness, oppression and rebellion.

Celebrity culture

Celebrity culture, Elvis Presley

Celebrities such as Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and musical legends even as far back as Elvis Presley have had their emotional struggles portrayed within the media over the years.

The trauma of media intrusion and contrived newspaper stories often causes people in the public eye to struggle with severe anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses.

Most of us are aware of the public breakdown of Britney Spears in 2007, where she famously shaved off all her hair and, not long after her late-night trip to a hair salon, attacked a journalist.

Spears has long talked about her struggles with Bipolar Disorder, and it appears that the close attention and scrutiny given by the media didn’t help with her struggles; if anything, they made the problem more severe.

Eating disorder

Eating disorders

Actress and singer Demi Lovato has also spoken about her long-term struggles with mental health.

As an advocate in a culture where many celebrities are taking to social media to speak out about their struggles with mental health, Lovato has been very open about her mental health struggles with depression, substance misuse, self-harming behaviours and eating disorders.

Major depressive disorder

In the 1960s, rock and roll legend Elvis Presley went through a great depression during his career. As a result, he began to develop self-destructive behaviours such as prescription drug addiction, and by the early 1970s, he was diagnosed with depression.

Positive influence

Although living with a mental health condition can be profoundly challenging, it appears that the stigma attached to mental illness is slowly improving.

Many believe that celebrity influence could have something to do with how mental illness now gets viewed, and for those struggling with poor mental health, this can only be a good thing.

The subject of mental illness doesn’t cause the same level of dismissal and avoidance as it once did. People diagnosed with depression, anxiety and schizophrenia and any other mental disease are not as severely stigmatized as they once were.

The resources we now have at our disposal are much greater than twenty years ago. In addition, the emergence of the internet and social media have helped create a deeper awareness and understanding of mental illness and mental health treatment.

Pop culture has had a positive influence on the way we view mental illness and the many symptoms that are part of the conditions.

In a world where stigma is rife, fortunately, initiatives and awareness around mental illness are improving, which can be beneficial for those who may be struggling.

Get in touch today with one of our addiction specialists who will be able to help.

Call now
Ready to get help?
Call for treatment options
Need financing?
Payment plans available