Mental health depictions are changing people’s professional choices

A therapy scene in a movie is being streamed.
A therapy scene in a movie is being streamed.

By Daniel Tristyn Silva

Mental health awareness, through media and elsewhere, is shifting the conscious of young professionals in terms of what they want to do with their lives. 

More accurate depictions of those struggling with mental health issues are on the rise. These depictions include everything from Bipolar Disorder to Autism. Young professionals are seeing these depictions and deciding they want to contribute to solving the problem.

Some have decided the best course of action is to further their education in an area where they can serve those that are struggling.  Some have decided they would like to serve them in a field they are already working in. 

The number of characters with mental health issues according to the USC Annenberg study.

According to a USC Annenberg study , 3 characters in the television shows they studied had some type of Spectrum Disorder. 

Atypical is a televisions show on the streaming service Netflix. It features a teenage boy that has Autism. The character deals with the trials and tribulations of the disorder while his family works alongside him to aid his experience. 

“Watching Atypical made me want to learn more about the disorder initially,” said Samantha Marner, who is going to graduate with a degree in a physical therapy in August.  “I learned more about how much these individuals go through.”

She watched the show Atypical and it has influenced what she wants to do while being a practicing physical therapist. 

“Now that I am about to graduate from my physical therapy program I think about the individuals with Autism,” said Marner. “I hope that I am able to help so people with the disorder and though I won’t be able to do it all the time, I hope I can make some kind of a difference there.”

The information she learned and viewing the show made her want to adjust slightly what she hopes to focus on during the course of her career.

Good Will Hunting features a main character, Will Hunting, that acts out due to trauma in his past. He faces criminal charges, but do to how intelligent he is he’s allowed to do an alternative to jail time. 

He has to go see a therapist. Therapist, played by Robin Williams, helps Will to understand what has happened in his past and explains to him the reality of the situation. Though never explicitly stated in the film it appears that Will suffers from PTSD from abuse that he faced as a child.

“I watched Good Will Hunting a few years ago and since then I have continued to watch it every few months,” said Saenz. “The second or third time I realized how big an impact someone can have on another person’s life if they are in the right position as a professional counselor.”

Marina Saenz is attending Texas A&M University San Antonio to get a degree in a Clinical Mental Health Counseling. She said she made this decision after watching a film that changed her life. 

“I remember watching the scene where Robin Williams (the therapist), at the end of the movie, tells Leonardo DiCaprio [Will Hunting] that it wasn’t his fault. He just kept repeating it over and over again and I realized that when you go through something it can haunt you for a long time,” said Saenz. “About six months ago, while watching the movie, I thought about how amazing it would be to be in the position to help people in that way.”

Marina Saenz is going to be a clinical mental health counselor in about two and a half years. Her reason for seeking the profession is because she watched a film that featured a mental health issue and saw a way someone else was helping.

Euphoria is a popular television show on HBO that depicts many mental health issues. The main character has bipolar disorder which leads to issues like substance abuse and reckless decisions. There is a seen where the character cannot physically get up to go to the bathroom to urinate because of her depression. 

“I’ve been watching Euphoria since it originally came out and I was absolutely shocked by the amount of mental issues that young people have,” said Morales. “I started talking to my family and I soon realized that recent boom of openness surrounding mental health has led to so many more High School students opening up as well. Now I see that so much more is out in the open.” 

Elaine Morales is a graduate student at the Texas A&M University Bush School of Government and Public Service. Morales watched a television show that changed her post graduate career plans.

“I grew up with a close friend that had Bipolar Disorder and I never quite understood what he was going through. I wasn’t with him all day. I didn’t see what he was like when he was alone. He hid it so well. When I watched Euphoria I finally saw it up close. The depression was so deep and the mania was so much more impactful,” said Morales. 

Morales decided that her degree in Public Administration could best be used in another way than what she originally intended.

“You know, I thought I was going to work in some form of administration for a business. I decided after further reflection that I wanted to do public service. I just don’t, you know, see a way I can help at a business with this issue at all. In government, or public service or whatever, I can work on this issue and others I actually care about,” said Morales.

Television series and films having an impact on these three individuals may be indicative of more representation of people suffering from a mental illness leading to a structural shift that people are making when it comes to architecting their professional lives.

In the case of Elaine Morales you have someone that was able to watch the television show Euphoria and relate it to her close friend with Bipolar Disorder. Then decide that they wanted to do something where helping those with mental health issues was possible in at least some kind of small way.

In the case of Samantha Marner you have someone already having decided their chosen field. She, as a physical therapist, has decided to at least partially devote some time to those patients that have Autism. 

Lastly, in the case of Marina Saenz you have someone that completely upended their postgraduate plans to do something that will help people that have mental health issues. A movie that featured a young man that had PTSD and his interactions with a mental health counselor led her to make a life altering decision. She plans to work in mental health for the rest of her life.

“My friend freaked out when I told him how much more I understood him. He told me it was like I finally clicked. He was right,” said Morales.

If you or someone you know are in need of help for a mental health issue call 1-800-950-6264 to speak to the National Alliance On Mental Illness Helpline.