Mental illness of all types are commonly found in the media, yet the writers are rarely knowledgeable on the subject. That is, characters are often written to have a particular psychological disorder, but this winds up creating a lot of misinformation about the illness, how people should treat them, what kinds of treatments are available, etc. In fact, a study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information found that the way psychological disorders are presented in the media can have serious negative consequences for those that actually have them (Stuart, 2006). Therefore, what follows below is a look at the consequences of misrepresenting mental illness in the media, including how it affects treatment options for those with psychological disorders, how it changes society’s perception of psychological disorders, and how it changes how those that suffer from psychological disorders see themselves.
To begin with, studies have indicated that the majority of information received about psychological disorders comes from the media and that most of this information is incorrect. One important consequence of this is that it changes the treatment options provided to those that suffer from them. That is, when society is misinformed, then treatment options can be less funded, stigmatized, not advertised, etc., resulting in patients not getting the help that they need. For example, depression is a common psychological disorder, and in the media it is portrayed as something that can be worked through. In other words, it merely requires being tough, and those that can’t get over it are weak. Therefore, people are less likely to seek treatment or are not aware that treatment even exists (Tartakovsky, 2019).
Furthermore, when the general public is inundated with misrepresentations of mental illness it creates harmful stereotypes. That is, depictions of people with mental illness accumulate overtime, leading to common, yet incorrect perceptions of them. For example, it was common for the murderer in a suspense film to have schizophrenia, in that this was the reason for him killing people. Because of his condition, he may have multiple personality disorder, where one of them is the killer, while the others were not aware of it. Even though this is not based on hard science, it lead the general public to believe people with psychological disorders might be dangerous. Therefore, people were afraid to seek mental health counseling or therapy, as they did not want to be labeled (Frankham, 2017).
Lastly, people with psychological disorders may actually begin to believe that they are broken due to the media. That is, when they see a character that shares their particular psychological disorder, their perception of the illness may be altered. If the character and his or her mental illness are not portrayed in a flattering manner, then this could lead to the patient becoming depressed or worse. For example, if a person has post traumatic stress disorder and he or she see a character in a film that is also suffering from it, then this has the potential to affect the person. If the character is chastised for his or her condition, then this could reflect on the patient (Fawcett, 2015).
Overall, the media has a responsibility to show psychological disorders accurately and with the affect it may have on those that suffer from them. Because the media has the power to change how people think, they can have an impact on how psychological disorders are treated, how society treats patients that suffer from these, and how these patients see themselves. If not handled correctly, the media may wind up hurting countless people. However, by consulting with mental health experts, they can make a real, positive impact in the lives of people that need it.
- Fawcett, K. (2015). How Mental Illness is Misrepresented in the Media. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/04/16/how-mental-illness-is-misrepresented-in-the-media
- Frankham, E. (2017). Stigmatizing Media Portrayals: What Can We Do? Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2017/Stigmatizing-Media-Portrayals-What-Can-We-Do
- Stuart, H. (2006). Media portrayal of mental illness and its treatments: what effect does it have on people with mental illness? CNS Drugs.
- Tartakovsky, M. (2019). Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illness. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/medias-damaging-depictions-of-mental-illness/