Mental illness in the news and the information media

tacklingstigma wanted to research the differences between print media and digital media when covering mental health. I have previously blogged about print media coverage, however I came across a critical review article addressing the following four research points:

(1) How extensive is the presentation of mental illness in the news and information media, and what is the nature of this presentation?

(2) How important is the news and information media in shaping knowledge, attitudes and behaviour regarding mental illness?

(3) Does the news and information media have a negative impact on people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding mental illness?

(4) Can the news and information media have a positive influence on community knowledge, attitudes and behaviours regarding mental illness?


The key findings of this article were:

  • News and information media have a tendency to promote stigma (violence, crime etc.).
  • Inaccurate information on prognosis and treatments.
  • Schizophrenia receives the most negative perceptions.
  • The influence of the coverage depends on indirect or direct personal experience.
  • News and information media coverage of mental health can create a social distance between people.
  • Mass media stigma reduction campaigns, web-based mental health literacy programmes and documentary films can have a more positive effect as they have the ability to use personalised stories.


Below, is a breakdown of media sources and their coverage of mental health:


The majority of these have considered undifferentiated mental disorders and have found their overall presentation to be negative and reflective of stigmatising attitudes.


Wahl (2000) focussed on the subject of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and how it was portrayed in popular magazines. Articles that were directly associated with the condition were informative but these were outnumbered by incidents labelled as stalking and obsessive.


Brooks (2009) focussed on eating disorders and identified talk-back discussions on this topic on four major radio stations in the UK between 2004 and 2007. This particular study showed that people with eating disorders utilised various informal practices that portrayed them as passive individuals who assigned agency from themselves to the disorder itself.

The Internet

The internet is a much newer source of information and differs from print media. Many websites provide accurate and informative information on specific mental health problems. Despite this, the article mentions that the internet is a more volatile and interactive medium which has implications for the nature and quality of information. The potential to optimise information can present problems.

74% of the studies examined concluded that the overall quality of the sites were inadequate; undifferentiated mental illnesses appeared to be very poor, whereas sites about affective disorders appeared to be better quality.


It has been proven that news and entertainment media can potentially present a distorted and inaccurate picture of mental illness. These media sources are very influential and negatively contributes towards stigma. Despite this, the media has exhausted all avenues to share knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in positive ways which has demonstrated some success. This article recommends that mental health experts and media professionals should collaborate to reduce negative portrayals of mental illness and instead, become informative representations.


Click here for the full article