The media and mental illness

Nearly one in five Americans experiences some type of diagnosable mental illness each year. It is safe to acknowledge that we have all been touched by the effects of mental illness. Yet, as a culture, we continue to endorse and perpetuate stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness.

Media portrayals of individuals living with mental illness are often exaggerated and unrealistic.  For instance:

  •  When a mass shooting happens, mental illness is often overstated, eliciting fear from viewers.
  •  When a celebrity displays bizarre behavior, mental illness can quickly morph into entertainment.
  •  When pitying a character with a mental illness is the sole intent of a TV show or a movie.

How the media represents mental illness undoubtedly helps to shape public attitudes—for better or worse.

Stigma erodes the reality of mental illness within our culture and perpetuates prejudice and discrimination. Stigma makes a difference in how individuals access treatment, how they live in their communities, and how they internalize their illness.

We can all challenge stereotypes and fight discrimination by educating our peers and communities. Media literacy is an important part of this education. By challenging and questioning how the media portrays mental illness, we can begin to change stereotypes and prevent pervasive discrimination.

Educating other people so they understand the facts about mental health issues and treating people with respect and compassion are good first steps to de-stigmatizing mental illness within our culture.