I’ve spent the week reading study after study about what negative representation does for people suffering with mental illness. How it hurts them. How it isolates them. How it stops them asking for help. And when I say 'them' I really mean 'me'. It has hurt me.

The entertainment industry and media generally provide overwhelmingly dramatic and distorted images of mental illness that emphasise dangerousness, criminality and violence.

They also model negative reactions to the mentally ill, including fear, rejection, and ridicule.

Often, the information is inaccurate and creates a false picture of what mental illness really is.

The media has a lot of power, and media and healthcare professionals can work together to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness.

Considering that an estimated one in five people experiences mental illness each year the stigma must end.

People are fed stereotypes that they believe are based on truth, when in fact, they are usually based on misunderstandings. These stereotypes lead to a stigma, that causes harm to those suffering by:

  • Discouraging people from getting the help they need

  • Making recovery more difficult because people feel less confident

  • Promoting discrimination in the workplace, school or any social situation

  • Causing isolation because of fear

  • Negatively impacting friends, family and relationships

  • Creating the view that those who have a mental health problem are outsiders

  • Damaging self-image

I've put together a list of the stereotypes I saw repeatedly featured in the media and film. Hopefully, you think a little differently when next seeing characters and news stories devised to further stigma for the sake of entertainment.

1. "All people with mental illness are dangerous and violent."

Mental illness is commonly the focus in the news as the primary cause for violent acts instead of considering other factors.

The truth is, people with mental health problems are more likely to be victims of violent crime and less likely to commit them. However, in the film world, characters with mental health issues are often portrayed as unpredictably violent.

2. "All people admitted to psychiatric hospitals are held against their will." Psych hospitals are always portrayed as evil: with patients being locked away, howling and restrained. Although mental hospitals in the 18th century used some pretty barbaric treatments.

Most people voluntarily choose to go to psychiatric hospitals for help.

My memories from being in a psych ward are of the kind nurses and the feeling of being safe to truly express the pain I was in, instead pretending everything was ok.

I know this isn't true to everybody. So, I am sorry if your experience wasn't like mine.

3. "Psych medications will change or destroy your creativity and personality."

Characters are often portrayed as brilliant , genius creatives, with a glorified dark and tormented side. Until they start taking medication to treat the illness and they lose their gifts and personality.

This was always my greatest fear and a reason I didn't go for help for such a long time. (not that I considered myself a genius, maybe when I was manic...)

I know this does actually happen to people when the medications aren't right or at the correct dose, which is awful.

I was simply lucky enough to be prescribed medications that did work. I still have my personality. I'm still creative and I'm thankful my symptoms are far less extreme than they once were.

4. "People with mental illness look different."

Characters always seem to have a 'look;' with crazy eyes or messy hair.

They somehow look different or separate from “normal” people. In reality, people with mental health disorders look like ordinary people, not the stereotypes portrayed in the media or on film..

People with mental illness look like me. and you.

5. "All mental illnesses are the same."

People with mental illness so often suffer from overgeneralisation in media portrayals.

Every person with a specific mental health condition is expected to display the same characteristics or symptoms.

The reality is very different. Different illnesses have completely different symptoms that vary between each and every person.

6. "People with mental illness never recover."

Characters with mental illness in films and TV shows rarely recover, and if they do, it is only temporary.

This creates the belief that there is no hope for those who experience mental illness. In reality, therapy, medication and support from loved ones can greatly help with recovery from mental illness.

Many people recover completely and can live productive, happy and healthy lives

What can be done?

How do we use the media and film for positive representation instead of reinforcing inaccurate stereotypes?

  • Analysing production procedures, for instance, understanding the balance between being newsworthy or emotionally arousing and verifiable).

  • Implementing a mental health course when training journalists.

  • Including expert input from psychiatrists during a film's production.

  • Presenting mental illness only when relevant to the story.

  • Using mental-health terminology with precision, fairness, and expertise.

As always,

Be Kind and End the Stigma.

Char xx

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