How mental health issues are portrayed in media


Howmental health issues are portrayed in media


Howthe media defines issues of mental health

Massmedia has enormous influence on how it shapes social knowledge,behaviors and attitudes. As such, assessing the way in which themedia misinforms and informs the public on matters of mental illnessis important. In part, the way in which the Media informs ormisinforms the public about mental illness influences communityunderstanding on mental disorders, attitudes such as stigma anddiscrimination. A study conducted by Angermeyer &amp Schulze (2001)found that most of the television dramas and comedies depictedcharacters with mental illness as dangerous, ‘axe wielding maniac,’‘crackpot’ or ‘psychos.’ In a Glasgow Media Group study donein 2010, it was found that nearly 45% of all story lines in the mediainvolving people with mental illness portrayed such people asdangerous or risky to others (BBC News online 2010). Many depictionsof mental illness on TV are frightening and misleading’ quoting agovern report. It is no doubt that the mass media through itsnumerous shows, films and programs depicts people with mental illnessin negative light.

Howthe society defines and views issues of mental health

Thesociety views, attitude and behavior towards individuals sufferingfrom mental illness vary considerably based on various factors suchas cultural beliefs, knowledge and development. Some traditionalsocieties viewed mental illness as a condition arising from evilspirits, curse or witchcraft. Consequently, many mentally unstableindividuals were shunned, excommunicated or killed. Many societiesbelieved and some still believe that mental illness was a dangerousaffliction and mentally unstable people were not supposed to livewith normal people. Often mentally sick people were secluded,stigmatized and discriminated.

Today,in the 21stcentury social stigmatization, discrimination and mistreatment ofmental ill people is still prevalent despite civilization. Mostsocieties stereotype mentally sick people as ‘madmen’ ordangerously beings that should be feared. The results have been thatmost mentally ill people are underfed do not receive family love,medical or the basic human dignity required. It is common to seepeople laughing, running away or mistreating mentally ill people.

Thediscrimination and mistreatment of mentally sick people is blamed oncultural beliefs, media influence and outright ignorance. Mostmentally ill people are discriminated in employment, housing,marriage and participating in social interactions. However, attitudestowards mental illness vary considerably among families, ethnicities,countries and cultures. Different cultures and religious teachingalso influence people’s beliefs towards care and treatment ofmentally sick individuals. As such, an understanding of cultural,media and individual beliefs on mental illness is effective inunderstanding the best approach of mental health care.

Howis mental health issues portrayed in your chosen media example?

TheAmerican ‘CSI: Miami Television Show’

Thisis an American television series based on crime investigation. Theshow depicts a thrilling and mysterious drama as special crimeinvestigating officers pursues a serial killer behind a string ofmurders. The serial killer (Hollis Eckhart) was a normal person untila random shoot out incident left him left his wife dead and himseverely injured. After recovering, Hollis developed intensepost-traumatic stress disorders that lead to delusional disorder. Inthis state, Hollis developed intense obsession for revenge and thisled him to delusional fantasy strings of shooting. In season 6 of‘CSI: Miami,’ the show depicts the mentally ill killers as ‘manhunter.’ For instance, in episode S10 of the ‘CSI: Miami show,’the killer is depicted as schizophrenic who gouges eyes from victimsbefore killing them.

Throughoutthe show the character is depicted as a ‘madman’ ‘psycho’’gun wielding maniac’ and extremely dangerous. In fact, an audiencewatching the show for the first time is overwhelmed with fear as thekiller takes to guerrilla tactics by ambushing victims even theinvestigating offices. In other scenes, the character is portrayed asmentally retarded, lone and lying low waiting to pounce whenaggrieved. In fact, the crime investigators are depicted as extremelycautious when talking or approaching the ‘schizophrenic killer.’The ‘CSI: Miami show’ is indeed a true depiction of how mediaportray the state of mental illness in exaggerated and frighteningways.

Theimpact might that ‘CSI: Miami show’ portrayal have on societalperception of mental health

Theway mental health is portrayed in this investigative show ‘CSI:Miami series’ is incredibly powerful in influencing socialperception on mental illness. The show only reinforcesstigmatization, discrimination and negative attitude that people havetowards mentally sick people. The portrayal of violent deaths crimesperpetrated by schizophrenic individuals projects a frightening andmisleading portrayal of mental illness. CSI Miami portrays mentallyill people as individual who should be feared, are extremelydangerously and should be tracked down to avoid more harm in thesociety. The investigating officers are shown mistreating the killerand this reinforces people’s perception that mentally sick peopledo not deserve sympathy.

Thesociety believes that mentally ill people are better off inrehabilitation centers and efforts taken should be eliminating suchpeople from the society through whichever possible means as depictedin the show. The CSI: Miami only increase misconception of mentalhealth. Individuals watching the show would have distorted perceptionthat mentally ill people are dangerous who require no sympathy orsocial support to heal their condition.

&nbspHowmight ‘CSI: Miami show’ representation of mentally ill peopleimpact individuals and families experiencing mental health issues?

Theskewed, exaggerated and frightening media representation of mentalillness only increases fear and social stigmatization on peoplesuffering from mental illness. In part this is true because, the showsuch as CSI: Miami show depicts the mentally ill killer as dangerouswho should be shunned. Any person or family living with a mentallyill person would become increasingly restless, fearful and eventuallyseparate from the patient after watching the CSI: Miami. The CSI:Miami depicts mental ill people as serial criminals, unpredictableand thus dangerous. The consequence would be increasedstigmatization. On the other hand, individuals with mental illnesswatching the CSI: Miami would have reinforced influence to commitsuch crimes thus becoming dangerous to their family. In fact, as thesociety neglects and mistreats mentally ill people, the more theybecome aggressive and unpredictable.

Howthe ‘CSI: Miami show’ represents mental health in comparison tothe literature review and discussions of the course.

Vastnumbers of studies have been conducted to establish the link betweenmedia depiction of mental illness and social reciprocation,perception and attitude towards mentally ill people. In one studyconducted by Steadman and Cocozza (1977) in Albany, New York foundthat most respondents feared ‘criminally insane people’ andmentally ill persons after watching media depiction of mentally illpeople. This study compares to the effects of CSI: Miami show onreinforcing negative perception of mentally ill people. There isincreased fear of mentally ill people by the society after watchingmedia shows. In another study, Matschinger and Angermeyer (1996) dida sophisticated study on society perception of mental patients byshowing a group of respondents two politicians been violentlyattacked by schizophrenic individuals.

Intheir study, Matschinger and Angermeyer (1996) found a markedincrease in respondents’ negative perception of mental patients’as ‘unpredictable’ and ‘dangerous.’ This study supports theargument given that CSI: Miami show increases societal fear onSchizophrenic individuals. Philo and colleagues (1996) did anotherstudy in which focus groups interviews were conducted for individualswho had experienced mental illness. The study findings wee that mostparticipants felt that mental illness had direct connection withcrime and violence as reported in media. To this end, the Philo andcolleagues (1996) study compares to the CSI: Miami show in that theschizophrenic killer was influenced by crime scenes witnessed andthose reported by the media leading to his obsession fantasy inshooting.

Mediadepiction of mentally ill people creates more negative influence onsociety by distancing them from mentally sick people. In a studyconducted by Lopez (1991) and Granello et al (1999) in the UnitedStates found that social stigmatization against mentally ill peoplewas prevalent among individuals who rely on media for information.Lopez (1991) and Granello et al (1999) studies compares with thescenario depicted by the CSI: Miami by misleading the society thatmental ill people are dangerous. A similar study conducted byThornton and Wahl (1996) found that there was an increased desire forsocial distance and discrimination by respondents after they wereexposed to newspaper article lustrating the death of an individualperpetrated by a mentally sick person.

Thorntonand Wahl (1996) study compares considerably with CSI: Miami show inthat viewers who have mental ill people are subjected to traumatizingand frightening scenes that increases their desire for socialdistance. However, some studies contrast the view that mediadepiction of mentally ill people leads to increased socialdiscrimination against mentally sick people. In a study conducted by Dietrich et al (2006) found that after a piece of news paper was readto a group of participants describing how a mentally ill person hadkilled another person, one group of respondent agreed that indeedmental ill patients are dangerous and unpredictable. However, asfound Dietrich et al (2006) study found, the respondents under studydid not want to socially distance themselves with the mentally sickindividuals despite media depiction. To this end, this study offers acontrasting perspective on the perception held that CSI: Miami showwould lead to increased social discrimination against individualsperceived as mentally sick (Wahl, 1992).

Otherstudies have assessed the dose-response effect of media depiction ofmental people and social perception and attitude towards mentally illpeople. Granello and Pauley (2000) surveyed several young people inUnited States and assessed their television viewership time inrelation to perception and attitude developed afterwards towardsmentally sick people. Granello and Pauley (2000) study found thatthere was no relationship that the length of time used in watchingtelevision influenced individuals’ perception and behaviors towardsmental ill people. However, some viewers argued that it was likelythat one could not lead a normal life after watching excesstelevision based on negative depiction of mentally ill people. Incontrast, Angermeyer et al (2005) differs from Granello and Pauley(2000) study that the extent of television viewing does not influenceviews in stigmatizing mental patients. According to Angermeyer et al(2005) the extent of social stigmatization on mentally sick peopleincreases as individuals watch more television and not readingnewspapers.

Personalperceptions on media representation of mentally ill people

Thedeep analysis of the ‘CSI: Miami show’ and literature review onhow media portrayal of mental patients negatively influence societyhas also significantly altered my perception. First, I agree that themedia portrays mental health in negative way rather than showing thereality of everyday life. Secondly, I believe that the media exist tomake money through sensational news, shows and films in order to makemore money. As such, the media depiction of mental illness isobviously exaggerated to create thrill, drama and anxiety but doesnot in any way reflect the realities on the ground. In fact thecharacters used in the media do not have any inkling experience onmental illness and thus what they project is fun. However, the mediahas stringer influence on people especially for those who take mediaissues seriously. Therefore, in my perception mentally ill people arenot as ‘dangerous’ or ‘unpredictable’ as portrayed by themedia and no one should discriminate them. In fact the more societydiscriminates mentally ill people the more ‘dangerously’ and‘unpredictable.’


Themedia projects faulty, misleading and frightening picture of mentallyill people. Majority of the programs, shows and films in the modernsociety have no positive depiction of mentally ill people. The mediaas a major source of information has strong influence on people.Consequently, the negative picture portrayed for mentally ill peoplereinforces social stigmatization against mentally sick people. Assuch, it is important that the media change its way of ‘exaggerating,misrepresenting and misleading the society on mental health issues.However, the society should learn to ignore certain aspects portrayedby the media that perpetuate negative behaviors among the society.


Angermeyer,M. C. &amp Matschinger, H. (1996). “The effect of violent attacksby schizophrenic persons on the attitude of the public toward thementally ill.” SocialScience and Medicine, 43,172-180.

Angermeyer,M. C. &amp Schulze, B. (2001). “Reinforcing stereotypes: How thefocus on forensic cases in news reporting may influence publicattitudes towards the mentally ill.” InternationalJournal of Law and Psychiatry, 24,469-486.

Angermeyer,M., Dietrich, S., Pott, D. &amp Matschinger, H. (2005). “Mediaconsumption and desire for social distance towards people withschizophrenia.” EuropeanPsychiatry, 20,246-250.

Dietrich,S., Heider, D., Matschinger, H. &amp Angermeyer, M. C. (2006).Influence of newspaper reporting on adolescents` attitudes towardpeople with mental illness. Socialpsychiatry and psychiatric epidemiology, 41,318-22.

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Lopez,L. 1991. Adolescents` attitudes toward mental illness and perceivedsources of their attitudes: An examination of pilot data. Archivesof Psychiatric Nursing, 5,271-280.

Philo,G., Secker, J., Platt, S., Henderson, L., Mclaughlin, G. &ampBurnside, J. (1994). “The impact of the mass media on public imagesof mental illness: Media content and audience belief.” HealthEducation Journal, 53,271-281.

Steadman,H. &amp Cocozza, J. (1977). “Selective reporting and the public`smisconceptions of the criminally insane.” PublicOpinion Quarterly, 41,523-533.

Thornton,J. &amp Wahl, O. (1996). “Impact of a newspaper article onattitudes toward mental illness.” Journalof Community Psychology, 24,17-25.

Wahl,O. (1992). “Mass media images of mental illness: A review of theliterature.” Journalof Community Psychology, 20,343-352.