|Media portrayals of mental illness propagate prevailing myths and increase associated stigma.|
Media and Stigma
5 Media Myths on Mental Illness
- Myth 1 – People with mental illness are violent and unstable
- Almost two-thirds of all stories about the mentally ill in both the news and entertainment media focus on violence. While it can happen, most violent crimes are in fact committed by people without mental illness. But a crime committed by a person with mental illness is blown out of proportion by the media instead of being seen as something rare and out of the ordinary. Studies in fact indicate that the mentally ill are more likely to be victims of violence rather than the offenders.
- Myth 2 – They do not get better and treatment is ineffective
- The truth is that even severe psychiatric disorders can be treated effectively and people can lead normal lives at work, at home and in the community. While treatment of psychiatric disorders has evolved, the media continues to show outdated practices. This highly inaccurate portrayal often prevents both the mentally ill and their families from seeking treatment.
- Myth 3 – Mental health professionals are evil, mentally unstable, or unethical
- The diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders requires patience, skill and comprehensive evaluation. Mental health care professionals spend years in acquiring the qualifications and training required. Yet media portrayals undermine the integrity of these professionals. This further discourages people who are already hesitant to seek treatment.
- Myth 4 – Teenagers with mental illness are just going through a phase
- This encourages parents of teenagers to ignore symptoms as something that teenagers will outgrow. Movie portrayals of the teenager as a ‘rebellious free spirit’ further glamorises it in the eyes of the teen. The truth is that the onset of many serious psychiatric illnesses is in adolescence or early adulthood and early treatment offers the best outcomes.
- Myth 5 – There is a genius behind every mental illness
- While some people with mental illness are undoubtedly gifted, a vast majority of people with mental illness are ordinary individuals who want to get on with their lives and work productively. This caution is specially true for parents of children and adolescents; who view the role of the therapist as one who will unlock the hidden genius in their child. These unrealistic expectations put unnecessary pressure on children, often leading to a relapse; or a loss of faith in the treating clinician.
- Dara Roth Edney. Mass media and mental illness: a literature review. Canadian Mental Health Association. 2004. Accessed 21-Sep-2015
- Murphy NA1, Fatoye F, Wibberley C. The changing face of newspaper representations of the mentally ill. J Ment Health. 2013 Jun;22(3):271-82. doi: 10.3109/09638237.2012.734660. Epub 2013 Jan 16.
- Patrick W Corrigan and Amy C Watson. Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry. 2002 Feb; 1(1): 16–20.