"Jersey Shore" -- Mouthpiece for Mental Health Problems?

In a twisted turn of events, Jersey Shore’s most recent episode provided an enlightening message and insight on a topic that was especially groundbreaking for this reality television show: the actual realities of mental health and clinical anxiety.

Vinny Guadagnino candidly explained his reasoning behind wanting to leave the "Shore house" during the episode; he felt that his anxiety, stress, and depression had skyrocketed to unmanageable levels within his current environment and he wanted to properly treat himself. Claiming he was making the best decision for the betterment of his mental health and amidst much protest from Pauly-D, Vinny ultimately went home. And who can blame him? Vinny wasn’t exactly surrounded by the most beneficial atmosphere to effectively take care of his anxiety: loud music, binge drinking, and drama-filled roommates to name a few.

While viewers can usually count on "Jersey Shore" to be a train wreck of offensive behavior and problematic actions, this moment was a game changer for MTV’s hit reality series. Vinny’s experience with anxiety is quite possibly the best thing that ever happened to "Jersey Shore" because it reaches a wide audience and allows viewers a chance to change the way they think about mental health.

These are the basic facts: the show garners record breaking ratings, reaching a high of 8.87 million viewers during the third season, and the American public holds on to dangerous stigmas when it comes to conversations about mental health. In turn, Vinny’s unapologetic attitude about addressing his personal circumstances has a serious amount of potential to open up a widespread dialogue about anxiety, depression, and other illnesses.

Following the airing of Thursday night’s episode, Vinny publicly released a new website, halfofus.com/vinny, that serves as a space for people to learn more about the intricacies of stress and anxiety. The Website also encourages individuals to speak up about their own struggles and provides information and resources about ways to get help. The home page features a three minute video of the reality star highlighting his own story, and stands beside a bold quotation, “When I was feeling anxious and stressed, I knew I had to step back and get help.”

I felt a sense of familiarity and relief after the episode ended and Vinny announced the launch of “halfofus.com/vinny.” I’ve had my own bouts of anxiety and have come out about this issue in the past year to other friends in full frontal confessions and discussions. After voluntarily suffering through four seasons of nonsense, I was finally able to appreciate one moment featured on "Jersey Shor"e and realize that I’m not alone in my struggle with anxiety disorders.

According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. and affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older—18% of the total U.S. population. Of all Americans, anxiety disorders specifically affect younger individuals. CBC News in Canada reported that one study from January 2010 demonstrated that depression and suicidal thoughts are on the rise on campuses in Canada and the U.S. The news site also reported that another study released in January 2011 showed stress levels among college freshmen in the U.S. is at an all-time high.

Vinny’s Website shouldn’t be an isolated attempt for The Jersey Shore to have a positive influence on popular culture. Depending on the future of how this season shapes up, any and all cast members should take a cue from Vinny’s anxiety initiatives. For example, Sammi’s toxic and abusive on again off again relationship with Ronnie is enough reason for her to open up a dialogue about the dangers of dating violence, and Snooki’s past struggles with eating disorders warrants a serious approach to publicly raising awareness and encouraging individuals to seek help.

The decision to pursue a venture about anxiety treatment in an official form, beyond a single public discussion on one lone episode, is an unparalleled move from any other cast members. Instead of promoting a new spray tan or energy drink, Vinny put his energy into raising the public’s consciousness about a significant and relatable matter.

Even if Vinny decides to reappear on "Jersey Shore" in another few episodes—hell, if he can’t stay away for longer than one week—his initial decision to leave in order to take care of himself will drive a continuing storyline revolving around Vinny’s mental health and anxiety. After all, MTV clearly knows how to market the individual cast members’ biggest issues into record-breaking viewer episodes. Regardless, Vinny’s “coolness” and extreme popularity helps destigmatize America’s perception of mental illness, and that’s something worth paying attention to.

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