The false and negative images of mental health

Photo Credits by Ryan Melaugh, Flickr

Media coverage has created these false and negative images, and stigma of mental health:

Photo Credits: Sander Van Der Wel,  flickr

Before, 50 years or less, people didn’t speak or talk about mental health and illness. If someone in your family or neighbourhood was suffering from a mental illness they were sent away to the mad house; there they would be locked up in a sell and according to Dual Diagnosis they were put through severe treatment.

According to Merck Manual, society has started to change their views and opinion of mental health as not a crime but recognise it as a physical health issue. By doing this it has allowed people to feel safe about coming out and asking for help.

Although there are many media providers and organisations such as Headline who try to encourage this idea, there are also many aspects of the media who bring in this idea and stigma that people with mental illnesses should be feared and are dangerous.

The reason as to why mass media has so much power over society is because now people rely on it as their only source of information. People look to the internet when they want to research about topics such as mental health, few go to books or health professionals. This is how false images and stereotypes, and stigmas have been created around mental health.

On Sane’s website, they show different example of how Media providers and broadcasters, have portrayed people with mental illness as dangerous, killing machines by giving them names or using words such as ‘psycho’, ‘weirdos’, ‘lunatic’, ‘nutter’ to describe their actions in news and entertainment media.

Photo Credits to Nicolas Alejandro, flickr
Photo Credits to Nicolas Alejandro, flickr

Journalists have a huge role in how different societies and communities are portrayed in the media. Journalists are created so that the public are given a voice. However, many journalists are pressured into writing news story in a way so that more sell. Bad news is good news, and the more dramatic the better. Morris mentions how “the issue of commercialism therefore means that many pressures will be placed upon media personnel to frame products in a certain way”.

In addition, Headline state that many media broadcasters when covering a story, “often sensationalise crimes committed by people with mental health difficulties, even if the person’s mental health is no relevance to the story”. Broadcasters don’t mention the person’s health to create awareness, they do it so the story has more impact on the reader. Words like ‘psycho’, ‘nutter’ and ‘maniac’ that are plastered along the front page of a tabloid or newspaper will catch the attention of people and as a result more newspapers sell.

But news media are not the only ones to blame for this stigma. In film and TV, images of individuals with mental health issues are too portrayed as maniacs. The main villain in horror films are usually depicted as someone with a mental illness. In the film; Psycho, by Alfred Hitchcock, Norton Bates is a man who suffers from dissociate identity disorder is made out to be a serial killer.

In TV crime series, such as Law & Order or Cold Case, the character suffering from mental illness is often suspected as being the killer. By allowing audiences to see only these kind of images, the result is going to be bad.

Margarita Tartakovsky published an article on Psych Central stating that “subtle stereotypes pervade the news regularly”, but she concluded “whether it’s a graphic depiction or an insinuating remark, the media often paint a grim and inaccurate picture”. These false images make the mental illness look inadequate, unlikable, dangerous, unemployable and lacking social identity.

Media coverage on mental health has a huge impact on the younger party in society. Puberty is such a difficult thing for not only parents to get around but also for teenagers. During those seven or eight years of development, teenagers experience many kinds of emotions and periods of being up and down.

Photo Credits to AJC1, Flickr
Photo Credits to AJC1, Flickr

When social media started to become popular and websites such as Facebook and Twitter started popping up, people started to express themselves. The internet became a place where teens especially, found it easier and safe to express themselves. The internet gives them that bit of extra confidence to open about how they feel and what’s on their minds. People started opening about their sexual orientation, their beliefs and their mental health.

Coming out of the closet about either mental health or your preferred sexual orientation to your family and friends can be very difficult. However, social networks have given these people a place where they can express themselves and won`t be judged for doing it.

Unfortunately, nowadays, young people are abusing this and using it as a method of ‘attention seeking’. In the last two to three years the level of content on social media has increased dramatically and the subjects discussed on social media have completely changed.

If you look at any social media and studied its content for a month, you would have seen or read at least five to six posts about someone opening about how they have been suffering from depression or other mental illnesses.

People post these big paragraphs describing how they’ve felt over the last couple of months/years and how they have finally found the courage to come out and say they are suffering from mental illness. However, they don’t show any medical evidence to prove this. Self-diagnoses has become a huge trend now in society and on social media.

According, to an article published by Radical Parenting, self-diagnosed mental illness is now becoming a trend, “this trend is the social belief that it’s “cool” and “hip” to have a psychological disorder”. It continued saying “I would like to state that I do understand teenagers can have these disorders just like any other human being; however, a select group of teens diagnose themselves with these problems only to gain attention and to deal with other problems they face. But these teens don’t understand that psychological disorders are NOT a trend and are a serious issue that can lead to horrible consequences”.

Photo Credits: Pratical Cures, flickr
Photo Credits: Pratical Cures, flickr

This can be difficult for teenagers who do suffer from mental illness. By creating this trend, those who do try to come forward might not be taken seriously by their loved ones. Also, psychiatrists often describe teen patients as melodramatic and ‘going through a phase’. So, from a very young age, people are told that they don’t have a problem and should stop acting as if they did. This advice creates images in young minds, that having mental illness is wrong and should not be spoken about.

With all this going on, and these negative images and stereotypes being put on mental illness, people who do suffer from mental illnesses must be effected hugely. People who suffer from mental illness might be scared to come forward about their illness because of the stigma that has being created by the mass media. Those who want to come forward might fear being treated differently because of what they have and fear becoming an outcast in society.

“Stigma can be deeply hurtful and isolating, and is one of the most significant problems encountered by people with mental health difficulties. Learning to live with mental health problems is extremely difficult, particularly when someone experiences the prejudice caused by stigma. Stigma can be used to exclude and marginalize people.

The prejudice and fear caused by stigma may even prevent people coming forward and seeking the help they need. It is necessary to confront biased social attitudes to reduce the discrimination and stigma of people who are living with mental health problems”.

A report by the Mental Health Charity Mind, published in The Sun, did a survey of 515 people, who are suffering from a range of mental illnesses, about what they thought of the media`s coverage on mental health. The results showed that 73% felt that coverage of mental health had been “unfair, unbalanced or very negative”. Around 34% felt more depressed and anxious and a total of 22% felt more withdrawn and isolated and 8% said that the media coverage made them feel suicidal.

According, to the NCBI website the impact of negative images and stereotypes can cause self-stigma; where the person starts to resent themselves causing character weakness.

Photo Credit Alachua County, Flickr
Photo Credit Alachua County, Flickr

The stigma on mental health can also cause impact on society. The social impact includes “limiting access to housing and employment, damaging social relationships and social participation, reducing self-esteem and dignity, lack of control and influence in how services are designed and delivered, the abuse of human rights.

The media plays a huge part and is one of the leading causes in negative perceptions. In the past, people with physical disabilities were depicted in the media only when the story was about their disability. Today, it is becoming more common to see television characters whose physical disability has nothing to do with the story line. They are characters like any other, and their disability is not significant to the story.

There is a smaller body of research that supports the widespread concern that such images have a harmful effect on public perceptions of mental illness. However, limitations in the number, age and content of available studies lessen our ability to make firm statements about the present state of media images of mental illness. This is true in terms of information.

Our resources about mental health are very limited and because of that we can’t fully grasp what mental health is and how it happens. However, it is still to be discovered by scientists and medical experts as to why it happens and how to cure it. Until they know, we will still be in the dark.

The media needs to take a step back and see that they need to change the way they portray people with mental illnesses in news and entertainment media. Dr.Taylor Alexander said “intentional or not, naïve assumptions, stereotyping and discrimination can have damaging effects on an individual’s course of recovery from mental illness. However, people can and do recover from mental illness if provided with the supports and services necessary to facilitate and nurture a sense of hope, wellness and a belief that tomorrow will be better than today”.

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