“Whoever controls the media controls the mind,” Jim Morrison. Most would agree that Morrison was ahead of his time with that quote.
The media has become so crucial to political office that exuberant amounts of money are designated for political campaign ads. These campaign managers do extensive research to know exactly how to target each television audience. The goal is to control the narrative of believing what is on the screen. This same exact theory is used when discussing substance use disorder and mental health. It is time for the media to wake up and deliver a more informative view of the realities of these disorders.
For starters, I praise shows that display the horrors of where substance use and untreated mental health can lead a person. I find it courageous, wise, and storytelling at it’s finest to show such devastation. However, this is only one side of the coin to often seen on prime time television. I have been an avid viewer of the show Intervention and commend their reporting. I cannot count how many times I watch this show and on the commercial break, see ads with enjoyable alcohol use. My family and I have even made note that they are showing the use of alcohol while the primary programming is about abstinence of drugs/alcohol. Let me further explain this example of mixed messaging! My blood often boils when these networks run commercials for major restaurant chains because they glorify destructive behavior. A family is shown smiling around a table with the kids enjoying juice or soda. The parents are then shown with the father having a tall glass of beer and the mother drinking a glass of wine. Who is driving home? When I brought this up to others, I was told it is just one drink, and that is not a DUI. Is the risk worth the reward? Where is the oversight to control the messaging? A show like Intervention should never be followed up with commercials glorying fun times with alcohol. Instead, the network should display commercials promoting health, fitness, and success stories of individuals that survived the disorder. A person watching that show with no knowledge of the inner workings of recovery could easily be confused by this messaging. As a nation, this stigma surrounding these illnesses leaves us with no margin of error. Unfortunately, sponsorship funding has created institutional laziness without concern for the next generation. Stigma is allowed to outweigh education as long as quarterly goals are hit.
During my second semester of getting my associate’s degree, I took a mass communications class. I will never forget my teacher stated, “If you want to know what your favorite show thinks about you, watch the commercials.” I have since begun to pay closer attention and have been amazed at the depths of marketing each network delivers. All sports networks advertise athletic apparel, new movies, and alcohol/beverage companies. I often wonder where the advertisement for the world of recovery is?
“I feel so bad for those people on television. I often see people like that on the streets, and it makes me feel so sad,” said Jane Doe. I have been subjected to this rhetoric through my many travels as a motivational speaker. My experience has awakened me to the damage the media has done to the minds of many people. Now that I have diagnosed the problem, allow me to offer a solution?
There are channels dedicated to 24-hour coverage of subject matter ranging from sports, news, and cartoons. Why not create a network all about recovery. Use this network to give platforms to people who are saving lives daily and inform the public of all sides of the fence. Medical experts, health institutions, and news programming could deliver unprecedented access to the real world of recovery. For far too long, we have allowed the media conglomerates to control the narrative of recovery. Sadly this control has bled into the fabric of our society and help create a detrimental stigma. The media is a foundational tool that, if used correctly, can begin to change how we heal from this current epidemic. I now understand why the most educated, objective, and informed people all are avid readers. None of them watch television because they also know the media is a dangerous place.