Mental Illness and the Media

Updated on September 29, 2018
Ezria Copper profile image

My game plan is to research, condense my findings, and translate it into everyday language for busy people.

Let's Look at Media Portrayal of Mental Ilness.

With the controversial new web television series 13 Reasons Why, about a teenager who is depressed and commits suicide, there is concern about how people with mental illness are portrayed in the media.

Movies like Psycho perpetuate the myth that people with mental illness are violent and should be feared. It promotes the idea that a person with any kind of mental health problem should be shunned and avoided for fear that they will become violent and do something to hurt someone.

Research suggests, however, that people who suffer from mental illness are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than they are to be the perpetrators of those crimes. However, when it comes to depictions of mental illness in the media, studies show that violent crime is the most common theme.

In 1999, the U.S. Surgeon General announced that stigma was the largest barrier to mental health care. It is mostly manifested in isolation, marginalization, or social distancing in which people with mental health problems are far more isolated than other people. Young children learn that people with mental health problems are "scary" or "weird." The perception by other people is that these people are dangerous.

In a review of 22 studies that focused on why people with mental health disorders do not seek treatment or do not take their medication, it was revealed that stigma and embarrassment were the top reasons. If society keeps shunning these people and acting like mental health is one big joke, it is damaging to society and the health of people.

A Beautiful Mind

The Life of John Nash

John Nash was born on June 13, 1928. Upon graduating from high school he attended Carnegie Institute of Technology where he first wanted to major in chemical engineering. He later changed his major to chemistry and eventually mathematics. When he was 19 in 1948 when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science AND a Master of Science in mathematics. After that, he attended Princeton University to pursue graduate studies in mathematics. He earned a Ph.D. degree in 1950 with a 28 page dissertation on non-cooperative games. He started showing signs of paranoia in April 1959. It was there that he was given the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. He spent the next nine years in and out of psychiatric hospitals. However, he did make a full recovery from the illness. In 1970, he quit taking medication and was never admitted to a psychiatric hospital ever again. He also returned to work full time. He did not like that in the movie A Beautiful Mind, which was based on his life it portrayed that later on in life he was still medicated. The people who made the movie thought that if they portrayed that he was not medicated, it would encourage people with mental health problems to not take their medication. John Nash and his wife died in a car crash on May 23, 2015.

John Forbes Nash

I wouldn't have had good scientific ideas if I had thought normally. If I felt completely pressureless I don't think I would have gone in this pattern.

— John Nash

Touched With Fire

Touched With Fire

The story consists of two poets who are both bipolar and in inpatient hospitalization for the disorder. It explores the idea that there is a connection between bipolar disorder and creative genius. However, it also reveals that it is a life long disease that these people have to live with and learn to deal with. It shows the human side of having to live with and deal with a mental health condition. It also deals with the aspect of "magical thinking" or thinking that the disorder is not an illness and that they do not have to adhere to their medication because in the minds of the people with the disease they do not think that it is an illness.

Prozac Nation

Prozac Nation

The movie is based on the autobiographical book Prozac Nation, by Elizabeth Wurtzel. She gets accepted into Harvard when she is nineteen. The movie is like the book in the sense that it portrays a college student who has great literary talent and struggles with major depression. In the book she is hospitalized several times and tries to commit suicide on several different occasions. However, the movie does not portray her actually attempting to commit suicide. In the movie as in the book, she finally comes to a state of mental stability and learns to live with her disease. The book was a New York Times best seller.

Girl Interrupted

The movie is based on the book Girl Interrupted, written by Susanna Kaysen. The story starts out when this young woman has a nervous breakdown and tries to commit suicide. She is hospitalized for eighteen months and given the diagnosis of borderline personality disorder. She has to deal with the illness which she is denying she has. Even though she struggles through most of the movie and the book, she learns how to manage the illness.

Summing Up

Ending the stigma of mental illness is very important. The conversations people have about mental illness should be the same as if they were talking about a physical illness. People need to understand that these people have a legitimate illness and should not be marginalized or pushed to the outskirts of society. These people need support and for society to accept them and not fear them due to the stigma that currently comes along with the disease. The media often portrays people with mental health disorders as being dangerous and violent criminals. However, most people with mental health disorders are not criminals nor are they violent. They just have a chronic illness which they have to live with and deal with the same as someone with diabetes, asthma, or any other illness.


I accessed the following articles on June 24 and 25, 2017.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.


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