Popular TV shows and movies can strengthen adolescents’ mental health and help them cope with bullying, sexual assault, suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and depression when these issues are described with empathy and when appropriate resources are provided, according to a report released by UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storyteller Shows.
And the need is great. Recent research has shown that children between the ages of 11 and 17 are more likely than any other age group to report moderate to severe anxiety and depression, said Yalda Uhls, founder and executive director of the center and assistant assistant professor. of psychology.
Even before the pandemic, teen suicide rates were increasing, along with reported symptoms of anxiety and depression, she noted. At the same time, almost half of young adults say they still perceive a stigma attached to receiving mental health treatment.
The center has conducted several studies on the controversial Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” a teen drama that first aired in 2017 and has been acclaimed and condemned worldwide for its graphic portrayals of suicide, d sexual assault, domestic violence, bullying, homelessness and school shootings. Uhls and his team wanted to know how the program impacted the mental health of the teens who watched it.
In a study of 157 children aged 13 to 17 from across the country, 68 watched season 3 of “13 Reasons Why,” while the rest did not. All participants completed a survey at the start of the study on mental health, depression, bullying, sexual assault and related topics and one at the end that asked, among other questions, if they had researched information about these issues.
The group that watched the show also answered questions about whether and with whom they discussed the show and whether what they saw caused them to seek further information on the topics discussed.
Almost all of the teens – 62 of 68 – who watched the show said they looked for information on mental health topics related to what they saw. A large majority of them also said they discussed the issues raised with others, particularly suicide, mental health and bullying.
Our research found that when teens watch TV shows that describe mental health issues, they are actually talking about it with their peers, parents, and partners. Our results show that these kinds of stimulating and realistic stories inspire young people to talk about and learn more about mental health. “
Yalda Uhls, Founder and Executive Director, Center for Scholars and Storytellers, University of California – Los Angeles
The average age of the participants was 15 years; 52% were women and 48% were men. About 55% were white, 19% were Hispanic, 17% were black, and just over 6% identified as multiracial.
The study, which is highlighted in the Center for Scholars and Storytellers report, has been accepted for publication in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and is expected to be published in August.
The center also commissioned a study from media research and analysis firm MarketCast, which tracked more than 1.29 million Twitter mentions of “13 Reasons Why” over a total of three weeks to examine the conversation surrounding the show on social media.
Among the results: Social engagement was especially high when the show’s cast provided mental health resources, such as when Devin Druid, who plays one of the main characters, posted resources and shared an article he spoke in. sexual assault. Viewers have also used posts of emotionally charged scenes and behind-the-scenes content on social media to engage in conversations about difficult topics.
Additionally, the show’s producers have created a website featuring videos of the cast, hotline numbers, and links to resources to help viewers navigate the topics covered in various episodes.
The report recommends that, like the producers of “13 Reasons Why”, the studios create and provide credible and engaging resources with accurate information to accompany television shows and films designed for teens that deal with mental health and issues. related issues. Examples include toolkits developed by public health experts and designed to help teens discuss these issues with their parents and friends.
Uhls said she hopes the centre’s new research will inspire the efforts of film and television executives to produce meaningful shows that improve the lives of viewers.
“Together, we can normalize discussions about mental health by bringing together academics and content creators to unleash the power of research-based storytelling,” she said. “This study provides much-needed evidence to advance the conversation about how a popular show can impact adolescent mental health and the lessons to be learned from it. Accurate information combined with compelling storytelling works well.”
University of California – Los Angeles