Stigma hurts! Unless you are a member of one of the less fortunate groups in our society you probably know very little about stigma. People of color, ex offenders, and the poverty-stricken know, all too well, the sting of stigma. U. S. News reported on another group that knows very well the pain caused by stigma, the mentally ill.
Do you live with mental illness? Do you have a family member or loved one living with mental illness? If you answer no to these two questions, then, you may have a faulty impression about those living with mental illness and mental illness itself. Most people learn what they know, think they know, I about the mental health challenges of others through media. And that is definitely a faulty source of information about a very serious human issue. Individuals living with mental illness need the most informed support from the community that is possible. Otherwise, their hope for being a fully contributing member of society is severely hampered. Let me share some information about the depiction of individuals living with mental health challenges as portrayed by the media. This depiction feeds the branding aspect of stigma toward the mentally ill.
Studies indicate that mass media is one of the public’s primary sources of information about illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar, and depression. However, research also suggests that media portrayals of mental illness are negative or inaccurate. According to Dr. Otto Wahl from Connecticut’s University of Hartford, recent studies show that media depictions of mental illness are outdated and harmful. Here are a couple of the common, inaccurate and misleading media stereotypes:
People with mental illnesses are criminal or violent. Studies show that individuals with mental illness are less likely to commit violent crimes and are actually more likely to be victimized. However, many news sources sensationalize incidents where innocent people are killed by a mentally ill individual. According to Don Diefenbach, the chair of mass communications at University of North Carolina, Asheville, fictional media also portrays mental illness in skewed ways. After he analyzed portrayals of psychological disorders on prime time television, he found that characters that had a mental illness were 10 to 20 times more likely to commit a violent crime than someone with a mental illness would be in real life.
People with mental illness look different than others. Often TV shows or movies will depict the mentally ill as having disheveled hair, rumpled clothes, or wild eyes. This is stereotypical. The fact is that many people with mental illness shower every day and go to work just like everyone else. These portrayals often don’t convey that most people with serious mental illnesses are in pain and struggling.
It is well known that education of the public about mental illness is the best tool for stopping stigma. Sadly, the fact remains that there is little, to no, resources directed to engaging the public in any substantive learning experience how about mental illness and the millions living with this health challenge. Until this changes, we can expect more of the same treatment of the mentally ill by society.
If nothing changes, then, nothing changes.
(research: U.S. News, How Mental Illness is Misrepresented in the Media)