The Portrayal of Mental Illness in the Media by Tracy Yu

The Portrayal of Mental Illness in the Media
by
 Tracy Yu

A majority of the population is exposed to the media and will encounter a portrayal of an individual with a psychological disorder at some point when watching television or movies. However, the way the media portrays mental illness is often incorrect, which leads people to make false assumptions and have an inaccurate view regarding those who are mentally ill. People with mental disorders are continuously subjected to negative stereotypes that are used in an effort to separate them from those who don’t have a mental disorder, the part of the human population that is considered normal by the media.

Television programs and movies use a variety of negative stereotypes to depict people with a mental disorder. They are often portrayed as violent criminals. Professor Diefenbach of the University of North Carolina-Asheville found that characters who are mentally ill were 10 times more likely than other characters to commit a violent crime on prime time television. This causes viewers to falsely conclude that individuals with mental illness are violent people. However, in reality, television characters with a psychological disorder are actually 10 to 20 times more likely to commit a violent crime than someone who legitimately has a mental disorder in real life. Additionally, the mentally ill are almost always depicted with the same high level of severity on television shows. Depression is the one of the most common mental disorders, however, it only accounts for 7 percent of mental illnesses on television. This results in a disproportionate representation of mental illness in the media.

Although people with psychological disorders are still depicted using negative stereotypes, the media has slowly made an effort to accurately portray mental disorders. Homeland is a good example of a television show that has not resorted to stereotypes to depict people with mental illness. Carrie is a CIA officer on the show that deals with bipolar disorder and the show portrays her disorder as just one aspect of her character and one part of her life and story rather than making it her whole story as most other shows do. The show’s depiction of Carrie is accurate, since people who have a mental illness can still lead healthy and productive lives.

Which shows/movies do a great job of depicting characters with mental illness? Which shows do a poor job? Sound off in the comments! 

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