Mental Health to the Masses: The Stigma of Mental Illness and the Role of Media

Which one of the following activities do you engage in more frequently: (1) Reading the newspaper (2) Openly discussing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Chances are you spend more time reading the newspaper. Newspapers reach many individuals every day, whether it be online, at a table in a cozy coffee shop, or standing on a crowded bus. ‘What’s in the news’ pervades our daily conversations. Unfortunately, stigma and mental illness continue to go together like a morning cup of coffee and a daily newspaper. The question then becomes, how can we reduce the stigma attached to mental illness?

One approach would be to conduct scientifically relevant and rigorous research, present the findings at a conference among a small group of like minded peers, and to further publish those results in a peer reviewed journal to share the knowledge among the academic community. I would argue that this approach is already happening, and that the results have been less than impressive. Don’t get me wrong, I find tremendous value in the scientific method, but I think that if we are going to truly reduce the stigma attached to mental illness we need some help getting the word out.

Well, let’s fire up the printing presses! I recently came across four newspaper articles that I think you should take a look at. I am in no way trying to tell you what to think, I am merely offering up a subject matter that I think desperately needs and deserves your attention.

Lets start with some one stop shopping. The Globe and Mail published a special report on mental illness that is worth taking a look at if you are interested in learning more about mental illness. I find this resource to be very user friendly, with a mix of written word and visual media. It covers many different mental health issues affecting the young, the old, and everyone in between.

Now that you have completed mental illness 101, let us move on. I refer you next to a piece from the Huffington Post. This piece discusses how we might reduce the stigma of mental illness, and presents some information and skills that can help us along the way.

In case your interest in waning, let me recapture your attention with two words: Violence & Television. Still reading? Great. Unfortunately, many people associate having a mental illness with being violent. I refer you to a piece in USA Today that discusses the perception that people with a mental illness are prone to violence. The truth is that having a mental illness makes you more likely to be a victim rather than a perpetrator of violence.

The last article on my list shines the light on how mental illness is framed within television shows. If you are curious which stars have been affected by mental illness, and which current TV shows are showcasing mental illness (for better or for worse), then spend some time with this last piece.

The point of this post was to encourage us all to educate ourselves and each other about the ‘truth’ behind mental illness. One way to ‘spread the word’ is to use a media source that already makes its way into the homes of so many. You do not have to be a journalist to contribute to this cause. There are many ways to contribute to a newspaper. What if you are not someone who enjoys writing? Well then take to reading, asking questions, and sharing your thoughts. The stigma surrounding mental illness can be found all too often, and it can be difficult to separate the facts from the fiction. Ignorance is not bliss, however, and we need to hold ourselves and others accountable. Spread the word.




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