Mass Media Depictions of Mental Illness

PsychCentral has a pithy piece by Margarita Tartakovsky that discusses some of the common stereotypes found in mass media representations of people suffering from mental illness (Click here to see the article).   Some of the most common being that:  people with mental illnesses are prone to violent outbursts; the mentally ill are unpredictable;  depression is caused by a chemical imbalance.  All of these contain some measure of truth, of course, but are grossly exaggerated in the media. Particularly noteworthy is discussion of I. Schneider’s 1987 sketch of three conventional ways in which the movie industry over the course of the 20th century scripted psychiatric professionals – as evil (Dr. Evil), foolish (Dr. Dippy), or wonderful (Dr. Wonderful).  Not only could the same be said of film and tv presentations of virtually all medical personnel (something the British tv series Green Wing got down to a comedic art), but also of those deemed insane as well – all in all, an interesting kind of symmetry.   On the surface, at least, there appears to be a limited repertoire of tropes and narrative plots upon which popular – and, it would also seem, scholarly – representations of the mad and mentally ill have relied.  I would be interested in hearing from others about other historical variations, especially those that were once prominent, but now have all but disappeared.


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