Positive On-Screen Mental Health Portrayals Help Teens Discuss Issues, Survey Finds

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Some 68% of teens say that seeing positive portrayals of mental health conditions on-screen breaks down stigma, a survey commissioned by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) has found.

The research, conducted by YouGov, also reveals that 48% said that seeing these positive depictions helps them understand issues around mental health, can act as a springboard to get help and that a scene in a film or TV show has prompted them to talk to their friends or parents about mental health.

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The survey has revealed the three biggest mental health concerns for teens are anxiety, stress and depression, with 64% of 13-18-year-olds saying they want appropriate warnings on all films and TV shows featuring this content. The warnings help them protect their own mental health, make informed decisions about what to watch and protect their younger siblings and friends.

Some 78% of 13-18-year-olds think the media industry has an important role to play in showing mental health issues responsibly. Other matters that concern teens are body image issues, suicide and self-harm, the survey found.

David Austin, Chief Executive of the BBFC, said: “Films and TV shows have a very important role to play, with content often acting as a bridge for teens to explore their own mental health. That’s why the BBFC’s role is more important than ever. We’re here to give teens what they tell us they want, and need – easy to understand age ratings and content warnings, that are based on extensive research into the feelings and reactions of U.K. audiences, and reflect what people really think – so they can navigate their own experiences, and start talking about them with their friends and younger siblings.

“It’s very clear that concerns around what harms young people have moved on significantly. In 2021, teens are concerned about mental health, and how this can impact young people emotionally,” Austin added. “For teens’ emotional wellbeing and development, clear content warnings need to be displayed on all films and TV shows, whether that’s in the cinema, on Blu-ray and DVD or on streaming services. We are calling on all streaming services to follow in Netflix’s footsteps and carry trusted, well-known BBFC ratings and ratings info on 100% of content.”

On Tuesday, the BBFC released an educational resource aimed at 14-16-year-olds, which explores the factors that can affect viewing choices and the influence film can have on attitudes, perceptions and behaviour, how media content can affect wellbeing and how on-screen representations of mental health affect people’s perceptions. The lesson plans also include a video of the BBFC Youth Panel discussing the portrayal of mental health in film and media and what it means to them.

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