Media and Mental Illness

2505 Words11 Pages
The media play a central role in shaping the general public’s knowledge, attitudes and beliefs concerning mental illness and disorders. The portrayal of mental illness in popular and news media has long induced negative feelings and stereotypes within the general public which are usually unsupported by reality (Stout, Villegas & Jennings, 2004). Partly due to this, mental illness has long been considered ‘one of the most stigmatised conditions in our society’ (Stout et al., 2004, p.543). The negative attitudes, values and beliefs associated with mental illness are entrenched into society, yet they are essentially unfounded and are developed through a lack of understanding rather than based on fact (Parrott, 2010). The media, through their presentation of information, have the unique ability to position people’s beliefs about mental illness, construct people attitudes and manipulate knowledge of mental illness. The portrayals of mental illness on television, in movies or even in the news are used to inform, entertain, or even shock (Oostdyk, 2008), and for this reason aspects of certain illnesses, or traits of the mentally ill, are likely to be exaggerated, embellished and magnified to make for a better storyline or news story. Wilson, Nairn, Coverdale and Panapa (1999) purport that popular and news media has been shown to be the principal source of information about mental illness for the wider public. The combination of exaggerated, negatively portraying mentally ill characters in television and movies, along with the overly negative representation of mentally ill in the news, builds a strong and consistently reinforced stigma that mentally ill persons are intrinsically different to others (Sieff, 2003). The study of mental health issues in the media began as far back as the 1950’s (Diefenbach & West, 2007). Despite this reasonable history of research into the
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