Mental Illness in the Media

By Elizabeth Gosling

According to a CDC study polling the general population completed in 2012, it is widely perceived that mental illness patients are treated with compassion.

Women and patients strongly disagree.

The media’s portrayal of mental illness, characterized by images like the one below, has a strong influence on the public. “People who commit a violent crime are labeled as “psychos” or “schizophrenics” by headline writers and news writers, inaccurately linking violence and mental illness in the public mind,” said Michael Ketteringham, M.D., M.P.H. at New York University.


Stereotyping through dramatic shows has been shown to increase mental stigmatism, said Dr. Michael Yao, a fourth year resident at Oregon Health and Science University. Music also has an impact on the perception of mental illness. Rap songs, such as those from the 1990s era, refer to part of the California State code that cover involuntary psychiatric confinement, according to Dr. Christina Khan, a third year resident at Stanford University.

Surveys show that 61 percent of Americans believe that people with schizophrenia are violent towards others, Ketteringham said.

The media is an outlet for stigmatizing those with mental illness, and it is a way to make rumors a reality, Yao said. Because of these stigmas, the public is less willing to support mental health treatment than physical health treatment.

Ketteringham said that although the media jump to conclusions about crimes relating to mental illness, the studies show that social class and substance abuse have more of a connection to violence.

Don Diefenbach, a professor and chair of the mass communications department at the University of North Carolina in Asheville said that in fictional works and in television shows, those with mental illness are depicted violently.

Despite new advances in the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses, recent studies show that media depictions of them are far behind and still harmful, Dr. Otto Wahl said from the University of Connecticut.

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1 Response to Mental Illness in the Media

  1. This is such a vast and dangerous misconception. I have seen instances where people were denied basic needs because of mental illness. Our society has a stigma and awareness of this stigma along with facts of mental illness is crucial.

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