It wasn’t long ago when people wouldn’t speak of counseling. If someone was severely depressed or suicidal, they might “go away” for a while and return “fixed.” People were institutionalized, sometimes unjustly, to receive treatment for their problems far away from “normal” people. Now, self-help books take up whole sections of bookstores and top the bestseller lists. You can catch “Dr. Phil” every weekday. A & E has several weekly shows dealing with mental health issues – “Intervention,” “Obsessed,” and “Heavy.” Shows like “Oprah” and “Dr. Oz” regularly talk about the symptoms of mental health issues like post-partum depression and spread awareness about diagnosis and treatment.
Celebrities have come out of the woodwork with their struggles with addiction and mental disorders as well, put a recognizable and respected human face on these issues. Suddenly, depression isn’t that dark, strange thing that Aunt Gladys had to take a “vacation” for – it’s a disease and people you know have it. And that’s okay.
It’s hard to say whom we have to thank for this turnaround in the national psyche. Was it Phil Donahue who aired discussions on previously taboo topics on his eponymous show? Was it Oprah who was the first famous person to openly struggle with her weight and her childhood sexual abuse on national television? Like many shifts in pop culture, it is hard to pinpoint precisely when the change happened. Some say the British Invasion started with the Beatles on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” Could it, though, have actually begun when The Beatles discovered the music of Elvis Presley? And the King himself was deeply influenced by the gospel music of his youth and so on back through music history.
At the end, it appears as though pop culture’s embrace of counseling and mental health issues is a natural evolution towards people’s desire to express their personal feelings and experiences. As the number one bestseller of all-time states, “for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.” That pop culture behemoth, by the way, is the Bible; the quote Matthew 10:26. As such, time marches on with one book, song, play, movie, and show influencing the next after the next, expanding our inner and outer worlds. Society’s acceptance of counseling is one step of many in our human history.
Tara Overzat is a counselor-in-training at Mercer University in Atlanta. Her interests include multicultural issues and acculturation amongst college students.