Mental Health Stigma in the Media

Written by Natalie Buchetto |
Images via Metro and WHO |

stigmafactsThe media contributes to the stigma surrounding mental illnesses. It portrays people who suffer from mental health problems as people who may be violent or unpredictable. The people portrayed in television and movies look different and never get better. This false portrayal in the media causes people to treat those with mental illnesses poorly.

According to PsychCentral.com in an article called Media’s Damaging Depictions of Mental Illnesses, “These myths don’t just damage public perceptions; they also affect people with mental illness.” This article explains how people with mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violence, not the ones causing it. There was also a focus group put together of people “who affect the lives of people with mental illness, such as insurance executives.” They were asked to say what they thought of people with mental illnesses. Almost half said, “they feared that individuals might ‘go berserk’ and attack someone.” In reality, people with mental illnesses are people who act just like anyone else. They try to enjoy their day and work just like anyone else.

inside-outAlthough many movies do depict mental illnesses poorly, there are some that get it right. As a big Disney fan and mental health advocate, I noticed throughout the movie
Inside Out the many relations to mental health awareness. The movie followed the emotions in Riley’s mind by personifying the emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear. Each emotion had to learn how to work together to help Riley with her struggles. Joy shows how each emotion helps Riley but leaves out how Sadness helps to make Riley happy. What the viewer and Joy realize is that every emotion matters and helps a person function. I also noticed Riley’s mom’s mind is being controlled by sadness, not Joy like Riley’s mind. Riley’s dad’s mind is controlled by anger. Each parent has an emotional issue to work through. The message of the movie is that showing emotions is healthy even if the emotions are negative.  Hiding true emotions while pretending to be happy is not as healthy.

As someone who suffers from mental illness, I would like to see a shift in how media portrays people who have mental illnesses. The media needs to show that people with mental illness can get help, show progress and live productive, fulfilling lives.

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