Anthony Anderson on the Power of Portrayals (Video)
Anthony Anderson at the 2014 PRISM Awards.
Credit: Aaron Jackson, vicarious-photography.com

Brian Dyak is president, CEO and co-founder of the Entertainment Industries Council (EIC) Dyak contributed this article to Live Science's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

It is tough to have a conversation about the importance of a support system. Just like asking for help, for people who rely on the support of others during a recovery, the topic isn't always easy to discuss. 

Support systems can come in many forms — family, friends, or even people who have shared similar experiences. They are the people who can guide us when we ultimately realize, "I can't do this by myself." Anthony Anderson, currently starring in the new television series "Black-ish," sat down with EIC during its 2014 PRISM Awards to discuss the importance of support systems, for television characters and in real-life, and the need for entertainment programs to show authentic people and situations, as those portrayals may encourage a viewer needing help to seek it. 

While he is best known for his roles in "Transformers," "The Departed," and "Big Momma's House," Anderson is also a passionate advocate for knowledge, understanding and positive communities, specifically through his activities encouraging and elevating conversations around health and social issues. His video jump starts our 2015 season of EICnetwork.tv.

Entertainment can spur people to seek help

In the entertainment industry, roles that feature substance abuse present an opportunity to spotlight real-life drama and triumph in a way that enlightens and inspires understanding and help-seeking behavior. [The Power of Hashtag: Using Social Media to Raise Awareness (Op-Ed )]

The anecdotal evidence is vast. One particularly touching moment came when a viewer of "Southland" reached out to actor Michael Cudlitz, noting that Cudlitz's character, who made it seem "okay" for a strong police officer to admit he needed help for substance abuse, had inspired him to seek treatment for his addiction. 

Research on the topic occurs less frequently in comparison to the number of letters or social media posts received by actors, but one study stands out: The Kaiser Family Foundation studied the impact from the series "ER" and found, in their 2002 study, that viewers nearly doubled their awareness of some health topics depicted in the series.  

In addition to the time Anderson puts into preparing for his roles and learning about the cultures, communities and networks in which his characters may live, Anderson lends his time to programs, like the PRISM Awards, that honor authentic portrayals of mental illness and substance use recovery in entertainment and news programming. At the 2014 awards, Anderson was sporting a green ribbon pin, clearly visible in the video, created by Each Mind Matters and the California Mental Health Services Authority to further awareness of those issues.

"In our field of work it is important for us to have an accurate portrayal of whatever [a] character may be going through, something that's realistic, so that it creates dialogue," said Anderson. 

Accurately depicting mental illness and substance abuse, for example, is what helps the audience, and actors, grow — and it spreads awareness within the entertainment industry and into the homes of viewers everywhere. The stigma surrounding such issues has prevented people from engaging in conversation for far too long, which leads people to often not seek out treatment or avoid help out of embarrassment. Accurate portrayal of substance abuse recovery sparks conversation and encourages people to ask questions, seek assistance and create a compassionate, accepting environment overall. 

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If you're a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, email us here.

The surveys included in the Kaiser Family Foundation study revealed that "some viewers learn about health topics from entertainment television, including some who have been motivated to seek additional health information, even engaging in discussions about health issues with their friends and families, and sometimes their doctors." Most importantly, studies and surveys about entertainment impact have revealed that repetition of the message is key to increasing awareness, comprehension and long-term information retention. 

Actors, like Anderson, help to elevate conversation and encourage acceptance, which in time, will reduce mental health stigma and discrimination and change attitudes and behaviors. But, it takes more than celebrity to make change. It takes everyone to spread authentic stories that encourage help-seeking behavior.

For more on mental illness and resources available for communicators, care givers, visit www.eiconline.org/teamup, and for more on how to seek help visit www.mentalhealth.gov.

Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.