Mental Illness in the Media

This essay won 2nd Place in our 2015 Essay Contest and was written by Hosana Tagomori, a high school student in Bangkok, Thailand. 

More often than not, the media portrays characters with mental illness as incomprehensible, tortured, and convoluted. However, the entertainment value often gets in the way of an accurate portrayal. It is either the sinister homeless man lingering in the street shadows, or the ludicrous strange friend whose life is a complete cluttered mess. Patients are mostly perceived as “dangerous” or “insane”, due to the inaccurate portrayals in media, where the character is almost always hopeless, deranged, and dangerous. It is quite easy to subconsciously absorb these misconceptions, especially when the over- exaggerated behaviors reoccur. Unfortunately, people are still quick to stereotype and assign labels. People should be aware of the impacts this may have on those who are suffering from the disorder and are in need of help.

Woefully inaccurate pictures of bipolar disorders in media can have an immense impact on the public. For example, in the television series Homeland, the bipolar character always seems to be the popeyed, insane mess who is constantly going ballistic, ranting, drinking, and screaming. As sufferers from the illness are perceived in a negative light by the public eye, they often fear being discriminated against, leading to avoidance of seeking treatment. In addition, although the movie Silver Linings Playbook takes on a more subtle approach, it portrays bipolar disorder incorrectly by diminishing the significance for people to seek treatment. The film ends on a cheerful note, with a big embrace between the two protagonists. However, the movie suggests that in the end, all you need is love, without any medication to overcome the illness. In reality it isn’t as simple and isn’t going to cure bipolar disorder any more than it’s going to cure heart disease. 

Almost all media tends to portray people with mental illness as violent. Studies have shown that crime is the most common theme of stories of mental illness. In a recent article, 11-year-old Tara started being ostracized by her friends when she admitted she had bipolar disorder. Nevertheless, research suggests that mentally ill people are more likely to be victims of violence, rather than perpetrators. People must come to realize that other variables play a role with aggression and that it does not necessarily define who the person is.

When it comes to the public, most believe that people with bipolar disorder are unpredictable and pose risks on society. Our views had been shaped by media to believe that these individuals might go “berserk” and attack someone out of the blue. Contrary to these beliefs, the vast majority of these people are ordinary, individuals who have decent jobs. 

People have been inundated with all sorts of false images of bipolar disorder that the media illustrates. Moreover, many misconceptions are derived from this. It is vital to seek ongoing treatment or else symptoms would be devastating. People must come to realize that although bipolar disorder is very real, it is also completely manageable and can be treated. It is critical to dispel stereotypes and reach out to raise awareness. 

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