The Son Tells Half the Story

By Sarah Kline, CEO and Co-Founder, UnitedGMH

UnitedGMH has joined Mental Health Europe among others in raising awareness of teen mental health by talking about the film The Son. It is a powerful film that shows a family struggling as their teenage son, Nicholas, grapples with deep depression.

The Lancet Commission on Ending Stigma and Discrimination in Mental Health report is clear that films can help educate a wider audience. This film needs strong trigger warnings and signposting on where to get support to truly educate. The performances by Zen McGrath, Hugh Jackman and Laura Dern are incredibly moving.

There is no doubt the film will raise awareness of how deeply children and teens suffer from depression and how challenging it is for families to know how best to respond. 

But, as someone with lived experience of depression as a child, a teenager and now an adult, I feel it only tells half the story.

The film *** spoiler alert ** gives a strong impression that Nicholas, aged 17, is incapable of choosing what support he would most want and how to get better. And that treatment without his full consent would be best.

I do not agree. I cannot presume to know what his actual diagnosis is and what is best for him, each person experiences mental ill health differently, but what I can say is that any message coercive treatment can be best is not helpful. And I am not alone. You can read what MHE says here.

Anyone who is struggling with mental ill health needs reassurance that there is always a range of options and that they can take control of the treatment they need.

The Son Tells Half the Story

There is a growing movement – including the WHO, Mental Health Europe and many others – calling for better community-based treatment and care. And this really does need to be in the community, where people live and work, not in a hospital far away.

There are increasing numbers of organisations by and for young people offering peer support and more tailored services to meet their needs. We often highlight these through the Global Mental Health Action Network.

There are far from sufficient services and support in any country but the situation is slowly changing and we need to recognise and highlight that.

We all have the right to good physical and mental health. The message we need to take from The Son is that mental health can be fragile and everyone needs some support – whether the person experiencing a mental illness or their family and friends.

But there must be choices as to what that support is, and how people manage their own mental health. Without that mental illness will remain a lonely and stigmatising experience. And people will not come forward to seek help when they need it most.


Further reading

Mental health support in a wide range of countries here

Child and teenage mental health here

Lancet Commission on Ending Stigma and Discrimination in Mental Health here.

Join UnitedGMH in calling for good mental and physical health here.

Join the Global Mental Health Action Network and work with others to reform mental health here.