By: Laura Bishop, Clinician
I recently confessed on social media that I watch my fair share of Hallmark movies. The station has gotten very savvy with their movie promos and basically you can follow them through all four seasons. Granted, the plot lines and actors are often recycled. These movies are more wholesome in nature and you don’t really have to think that much, which is why I like them. After all, working as a Mental Health Therapist can be stressful. I hold sacred the real life struggles people share with me daily and can run the risk of experiencing second-hand trauma of hearing these stories. I also don’t like to watch movies that contain gore or zombies, or other graphic images that are going to keep me up all night. So yes, Hallmark movies seem to be a good alternative.
However, there was part of my social media confession that got me in a little heart. I posited that long term exposure to these movies could actually be harmful to one’s mental health. Over the years, I have worked with many survivors of trauma. They face abundant triggers as they navigate through each day and learn to cope with what has been as they hope for what will be. Many have struggled for years with debilitating depression, anxiety, and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In addition, I have seen those who have broken relationships and lost jobs or mourn the loss of loved ones and can’t seem to come out from under their blanket of grief. For them, their lives cannot be magically transformed in 2 hours time. They may not lose a job and find another in the same day, or be whisked off to a palace in a magical (albeit unheard of country) and marry a prince or princess in time for Christmas, or get a ring by Spring (when it is already January and they have not met their person yet), or… you get it, right?
The most heat I received was from my own sister. She posted back to me in big letters that these movies are an ESCAPE after all. Yes, she effectively yelled it to me in type speak. While I agree with her on a surface level, I do carry reservations of using this logic over time. I believe that prolonged exposure could decrease one’s self-esteem by leading to questions like “Why isn’t my life like that?”, “Where is my prince/princess?”, “Where is my dream job?” or even “Why can’t I look this beautiful/handsome when just getting out of bed?” For many, the real world is full of more complex questions like “Why can’t I get out of bed at all?”
So, if you plan on binge watching your way through the year with these Hallmark movies for simple entertainment and escape, go for it. Just be mindful of these fictional fairy tales and be good to your own and other’s mental health in the process.