Fact Meets Fiction: The Representation of Mental Health in the Media

The stigmatization of mental illness still holds a position in the eye of the general public today. Besides being highly discriminatory towards those in ill mental health, in the worst case, this pervasive stigma might even prevent people from seeking the help they need. According to the results of “Statista”, which examined mental health worldwide in 2017, 970 million people across the globe are suffering from mental health disorders, which makes up 13% of the world population. Noticeably, in recent years, the process of destigmatization has experienced considerable support. I would claim that this shift has benefitted from the emergence of popular movies and television series such as 13 Reasons Why (2017), which explicitly address mental health issues and allow the viewer insights into the thoughts and feelings of a person suffering from a mental illness in order to spread more awareness about the issue. At the same time, however, it seems as though some producers are still carrying on traditional depictions of the past, thereby providing inaccurate representations of mentally ill people, such as illustrating afflicted characters as violent, unpredictable, and dangerous, as in the show You (2018). I will delve into the nature of the stigma attached to mental illness in relation to the concept of ‘otherness’, before giving an overview of the results of empirical studies that have examined the effect of media representations of mental illness on the general public. Next, I will focus on what is in my opinion one of the most damaging stereotype, the ‘homicidal maniac’ stigma, and will exemplify how such stereotypes can create fear and misconceptions about certain disorders.

Author: Zoe Takvorian