Mental Health Portrayal In Media

On Trial For Error: Mental Health Portrayal In Media

With being the most talked about trial in the media, the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard case is something I simply had to check out to see what the hype was all about. What started out with curiosity ended with so many thoughts. Here’s a quick fun fact about myself: I’m not one for keeping up with trends or media, but honestly, the memes just lured me in. I watched about thirty minutes of the live hearing and it made me feel sad (rather than excited), which caught me off guard. 

The thing to keep in perspective here is that I did not know a lot of the actual  information apart from what was fed to me via the memes. But the trial was…something else completely.

Frankly, the case involves a lot of ‘he said-she said’ and domestic violence/abuse among other things. What really stood out to me was the fact that it was so performative (for lack of a better word). Legally what’s required is a defence and prosecution, making an argument in the best interest of their client. But this case relied on a lot of public opinion and popularity.  Again, I'm not a legal expert nor am I well versed with this trial. 

This case highlighted the aspect of human suffering of how hurt people hurt other people, as well as trivialised mental health by handing out diagnosis as an excuse for unhealthy behaviour. Both of them frankly seem like they are in a lot of pain, which they also seem like they need to perform in a certain way to make their argument stand. This takes away from their own reality and seeps more into what can only best be termed as portrayed reality. 

Another thing that this case does is that it also highlights the worst parts of these two individuals in isolation. Both parties have had a lot of terrible incidents highlighted against the other, but no one can really see if there was any good (that came out of it). From the legal standpoint, that's how they have to maybe make their own case. Sure, we have opinions based on only the toxic parts of what's been shown, but it made me realise how often we do this outside the courtroom. 

Making judgments about people while they are at their lowest or when they are experiencing the most amount of pain is something we all do. Also something else that we all do? Having opinions of people who hurt other people and defining them based solely on those edge-case situations. Is that a fair or accurate means of judging people? We end up hating people we barely know and ridiculing their behaviour that we only have some insight on. It made me realise how much - collectively as a society -  we are all drawn to entertainment. We love drama, but only when it doesn’t come for us.  mental health portrayal in media

It made me imagine myself in any of their shoes (and I wouldn't like to be in either of them). Having to tear down someone to win an argument by using isolated experiences and articulating it in a way that takes it out of context. Even highlighting their flaws in an exaggerated way to prove a point. Having to carry around so much of that pain and being given the gift of public judgement to define whether you are a good person or a bad person. Hiding that pain because it might be perceived as negative when it comes to your defence. 

Don’t get me wrong, all of this sounds a lot like being bullied. 

From a legal standpoint, I have no comment because I do believe that to be a lawyer, you need to have a strong stomach to be able to digest all the vitriol that comes your way. But from a human standpoint, it all just seems cruel.  mental health portrayal in media

We are all social beings and we want nothing more than acceptance in good and (especially) in bad times. But when it comes to something external to ourselves, we blur the very same lines because we have opinions and thoughts. I’m aware that I'm no different; it almost seems ironic that I'm out here expressing my opinions. But I think that we can draw a line somewhere, and judgement seems to be a good starter step. Imagine being either of these two, and being on trial outside the actual law for all the mistakes you’ve made in the past only for the whole world to ridicule you with their unsolicited opinions. It sounds like hell to me.

Social media allows us space to be performative, like a star in your own film, where the protagonist’s portrayal and judgement is most important … and with that comes the cruelty of dragging others down. We can choose to be kinder. After all, entertainment is not an excuse to be cruel.

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Malvika Lobo


Malvika, a seasoned therapist with over 7 years of experience, specializes in Animal Assisted Therapy and Arts Based Therapy. She is the smother of animals, a chai enthusiasts and has a hot take on all things.

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