Mental illness portrayed in media

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Mental illnesses, also known as psychiatric disorders, can be poorly portrayed in terms of factual accuracy. In different forms of entertainment, such as movies, television shows, books, magazines, and news, those living with mental illness are sometimes shown to be stereotypically violent and unpredictable, unlike how many of those with mental illnesses truly are. Due to the potential for inaccurate portrayals of people with mental illnesses, some people believe that those with mental illnesses should be shunned away from society, locked away in mental institutions, heavily medicated, or a combination of the three. However, not only are those with these disorders able to function normally in society, but they can also lead highly successful jobs and careers, as well as make important contributions to society.[1]

The way that mental illnesses are portrayed in different forms of entertainment can contribute to public stigma. Public (or social) stigma is the awareness of stereotypes that the public and society holds about people who are living with mental illnesses.[2] In movies this often means portraying characters a physically violent and unpredictable, like in the 1978 movie Halloween, in which the villain is a patient that escaped from a mental institution. Public stigma also involves prejudice, or ascribing to stereotypes with negative emotional reactions like fear and avoidance.[2][3][4] An example of this would be avoiding someone who has been hospitalized for treatment for a mental illness after viewing the movie Halloween.


In 2012, India Knight wrote a column in London's The Sunday Times about depression. Fellow columnist, Alastair Campbell of The Huffington Post was ashamed to read her article mentioning how "'everybody gets depressed'" and also saying "there is no stigma in depression".

In his article, Campbell discusses the wrongfulness in her word choice. By saying everyone gets depressed is showing that she is a part of that world that either does not accept depression is a disease or they do not believe it is a disease.

Campbell claims that Knight's article reinforces the reality that there is still stigma and taboo surrounding depression. He goes on to explain how even in the medical profession, people are afraid to mention to their employers that they have it simply because they would not fully understand like they would understand a physical illness such as the flu.

Ending his article, Campbell mentions the fight to bring awareness and understanding to mental illness and describing Knight's article as, "unhelpful, potentially damaging and certainly showed we still have quite a way to go."[5]

Schizophrenics are often portrayed as dangerous, violent, and as criminals despite the fact that the large majority of them are not.[6]


Title Year released IMDB rating
Fight Club 1999 8.8
A Beautiful Mind 2001 8.2
Memento 2000 8.5
What Dreams May Come 1998 7.0
The Night Listener 2006 5.9
Awakenings 1990 7.8
Sideways 2004 7.5
Julien Donkey Boy 1999 6.7
Silver Linings Playbook 2012 7.8
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest 1975 8.7
Rain Man 1988 8.0
Black Swan 2010 8.0
Shutter Island 2010 8.1
Lars and the Real Girl 2007 7.4
What's Eating Gilbert Grape 1993 7.8
The Three Faces of Eve 1957 7.2
American Psycho 2000 7.6
Donnie Darko 2001 8.1
The Silence of the Lambs 1991 8.6
The Aviator 2004 7.5
The Soloist 2009 6.7

  • Sideways gives an accurate depiction of depression. One of the movie's main characters, Miles Raymond, is shown to exhibit several signs of depression, some of which include using substances (alcohol) in an attempt to cope with the failures and losses in his life, not having hope for his future, and having a consistently depressed mood.[7]
  • Julien Donkey Boy gives an accurate depiction of schizophrenia. The movie features a man named Julien who exhibits several signs of schizophrenia. One of said signs includes having conversations with people who, in reality, are not actually there.[8]


Throughout the world of television mental illnesses have been showcased throughout the years within many programs. For example, the hit television show on the A&E network Hoarders, starts off with showcasing one or two individuals on their Obsessive compulsive disorder. Each individual would work with a psychologist or psychiatrist, professional organizer, or an “extreme cleaning specialist” which are individuals who specialize in treatment for this exact compulsive disorder. Mental illness and treatments using the media as a platform stated in “Issues of Mental Health (p.593) “The role of documentary shows like Hoarders in the change of classification is unclear. However, some believe the rise in awareness caused by them was a significant contributing factor.[9] The article also stated that with the rise of “Hoarder” becoming a “buzzword” it began to command significant amount of professional attention.

Intervention, another program on the A&E network, also focuses on mental illness but, in this program it introduces the aspect of substance abuse. This program, like Hoarders follows the story on either one or two individuals who suffer from substance dependence and we are then taken into their day-to-day lives living with this dependence. Later the individual with the addiction is then given an ultimatum in which they decide the future of their well-being. For example they would either go to rehabilitation or risk losing family, friends, shelter and in most cases financial assistance. The documentary style television program also brought in celebrity subjects to draw more attention to how important and powerful an intervention can effect anyone. What this show educates the viewers about was the intervention process. Being introduced to the intervention process and the way to properly handle an individual with addiction. This television program also eased the stigma on therapy; but more specifically the stigma on the effectiveness of interventions.


The following list of statistics was obtained from studies done in the United Kingdom.[10]

  • Between the 1980s and 2000s the rate of mental illnesses in children doubled.
  • 1 in 10 people between the ages of 5 and 16 suffer from some form of diagnosable mental illness.
  • Between 1 in 12 and 1 in 15 children are estimated to purposely self-harm.
  • Over the past decade the number of young persons hospitalized due to self-inflicted injuries has risen 68%.
  • Over 50% of adults with some form of mental illness were diagnosed as a child, and less than half of these people were treated properly at the time.
  • Nearly 80,000 minors suffer from severe depression; over 8,000 of them are under the age of 10.
  • 72% of kids have some type of emotional or behavioral problem.
  • 95% of minors who are imprisoned have at least one mental disorder; many of them are suffering from more than one.
  • The number of people between the ages of 15 and 16 with depression nearly doubled between the 1980s and 2000s.
  • The proportion of minors with conduct disorder who were between the ages of 15 and 16 more than doubled between the years of 1974 and 1999.
  • 9.6% of people aged between 5 and 16 years have at least one form of mental illness.
  • 5.8% of those between 5 and 16 years have some form of conduct disorder.
  • 3.3% of those between the ages of 5 and 16 have some type of anxiety disorder.
  • 1.5% of those aged between 5 and 16 years have a severe form of ADHD.
  • 0.9% of all people aged between 5 and 16 years have a form of severe depression.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology". Archived from the original on 2014-02-17. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  2. ^ a b Corrigan, PW; Watson, AC (2002). "The paradox of self-stigma and mental illness". Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice (9): 35–53. 
  3. ^ Corrigan, PW; Watson, AC (2002). "Understanding the Impact of Stigma on People with Mental Illness". World Psychiatry. 1 (1): 16–20. 
  4. ^ Corrigan, PW (2004). "Target Specific Stigma Change: A Strategy for Impacting Mental Illness Stigma". Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal. 28 (2): 113–120. doi:10.2975/28.2004.113.121. 
  5. ^ "Media Portrayal of Depression: We've Still Got a Long Way to Go | Alastair Campbell". Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  6. ^ Hand, Lindsey Jo. "The portrayal of schizophrenia in television: An experiment assessing how viewers attitudes are affected". University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Retrieved 1 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "NIMH · Depression". Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  8. ^ "NIMH · Schizophrenia". 2013-08-06. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  9. ^ Marchland, Shoshana; Phillips McEnany, Geoffry (September 2012). "Hoarding's place in the DSM-5: Another symptom, or a newly listed disorder?". Issues in Mental Health Nursing 33: 593–597
  10. ^ "Mental Health Statistics - Young People Statistics". YoungMinds. Retrieved 2014-03-04.