Whether your favorite TV show is Dateline or Vanderpump Rules, it could be taking a toll on your mental health.
“In moderation, watching TV is typically an enjoyable and harmless activity,” says Paul Weigle, MD, associate medical director of ambulatory programs at Natchaug Hospital. “But it’s important to be mindful of what you’re watching.”
So which shows are truly binge-worthy, and which should you hit pause on? Dr. Weigle has the answer.
Watching TV isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
It gets a bad rap, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with watching TV.
“TV shows provide a welcome relief from the worries of real life. Try planning to watch a show with your family – just make sure it’s age appropriate for all. A good program can be a great way to enjoy family time and segue into productive discussions.”
So go ahead and cue up that episode of Friends. Doctor’s orders.
Unless you’re watching all the time.
It’s okay to watch TV, just not too often.
“In excess, watching TV for several hours per day in combination with other screen media activities can become a real problem. It contributes to a sedentary lifestyle, and detracts from important healthy routines.”
If you’re watching TV all day, you’re likely missing out on in person socialization, exercise or even sleep, which can lead to depression and a host of other problems for your mental (or physical) health.
Some shows might be more harmful than others.
It also depends what you’re watching.
“Shows with positive messages such as Parks and Rec or Ted Lasso can lighten our mood and better prepare us for sleep. But on the flip side, shows with dark or violent content can increase feelings of stress and disrupt sleep,” says Dr. Weigle.
And if you’ve been waiting all spring for The Kardashians to air, there’s more bad news. The editing and enhancements that make reality shows so appealing could be hurting your self-image.
“Many viewers unconsciously compare themselves to people’s lives as depicted unrealistically on television. This unfair comparison can contribute to low self-esteem and disappointment when our real lives don’t measure up.”
What about shows that focus on mental health?
This is where it gets tricky.
“Some shows do a great job of depicting mental illness accurately, and raising awareness for important conditions that may affect ourselves or those we love. Unfortunately, the benefits are often overshadowed by the shows with negative or inaccurate portrayals of mental illness, which can perpetuate stereotypes and reinforce stigma.”
And when it comes to suicide, that can be dangerous. Especially for children.
“Watching depictions of suicide on TV and on the news has been shown to make viewers more likely to attempt suicide themselves. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has clear recommendations for the media portrayals of suicide, but they are tragically ignored by some TV and news programs,” says Dr. Weigle.
“The month after 13 Reasons Why aired, the suicide rate among 10-17-year-olds spiked nearly 30%. I treated a 12-year-old fan of the show after a serious suicide attempt, who told me that she believed this the way most teenagers deal with bullying.”
These tips can help you enjoy your favorite TV shows, without hurting your mental health.
To help you watch responsibly, Dr. Weigle has six simple tips:
- Look for positive, uplifting content.
- Watch with family or friends.
- Plan what you’re going to watch – and for how long – to avoid unhealthy binging.
- Keep televisions and other screens out of the bedroom.
- Prioritize healthy routines and activities.
- Parents wondering what TV shows are appropriate for their children can rely on recommendations at commonsensemedia.org.
Looking for a recommendation?
If you came to the Health News Hub for a good TV recommendation, we’ve got your back.
As for the expert advice, Dr. Weigle has been enjoying two uplifting Netflix shows about Autism Spectrum Disorders. His first suggestion is Love on the Spectrum, a documentary featuring the dating lives of people with Autism. If you’re looking to watch as a family, he recommends Atypical, a fictional story about the family of a young man with Autism.
And the less official recommendation? I’m sticking with Seinfeld.