Mental illness, like most things, has succumb to media attention. Unfortunately, however, the way mental health is portrayed in the media is often unrealistic and serves to influence the wrong attitudes people hold towards it.
Production companies regularly portray mental illness in stereotypical ways in films, as do broadcasters in newspapers. The way in which they show someone struggling with their mental health is usually shadowed by undertones of violence, danger, and criminality. Not only is this portrayal incredibly untrue, but it is also incredibly dangerous, since it teaches society to fear mental illness, encouraging people to ‘stay away’ when that is the least helpful thing one could possibly do for a person who so desperately needs support at such a difficult period of their lives.
The impact that portraying mental illness in such a negative light in the media can have on individuals who are already struggling can be overwhelming. Their self-esteem is likely to deplete as they question whether the rhetoric which they are being told by the media about themselves is true. If they begin to question; ‘am I evil and dangerous?’, this might prevent them from seeking help due to fearing what other people might think of them. It can therefore be concluded that the media is an active promotor of stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health problems. Whether they are doing so subliminally or not, it is not fair to show someone in a way that deters them from getting help to recover.
The media cannot be blamed as being all bad however, as there are many people who believe that it has promoted some positive change in the context of mental health and its acceptance in our society. Showing stories of people, real or fictional, who struggle with their mental health brings it to the forefront of our minds, inspiring people to get talking about it which helps to diminish some of the stigma it has become accustomed to. If the media portray mental illness in a realistic way that highlights the truth behind it, not just the stereotypical stories that sell the most papers, then it can be a force of good, informing the public with accurate information that gives them greater insight into mental health.
To conclude, it is therefore paramount that the media clearly distinguishes between fact and fiction when reporting cases of mental health, as this will help to prevent any incorrect and potentially harmful stereotypes being formed.