Mental Illness, Stigma, and the Media

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Society is ingrained with prejudice toward mental illness, and sufferers are often widely perceived to be dangerous or unpredictable. Reinforcement of these popular myths through the media can perpetuate the stigma surrounding mental illness, precipitating shame, self-blame, and secrecy, all of which discourage affected individuals from seeking treatment. Efforts aimed at countering stigma in mental illness are faced with the challenge of centuries of discrimination and must, therefore, replace existing stereotypes with coverage of positive outcomes, as a first step in achieving the daunting task of overcoming these negative stereotypes. Long-term anti-stigma campaigns that encompass human-rights—based, normalization, and educational approaches are needed. The involvement of the media is essential for success, but, in order for the media to be used effectively, its motivations and limitations must first be recognized and understood.

J Clin Psychiatry 2007;68(suppl 2):31-35