Public attitudes

Public attitudes are clearly influenced by the media and are susceptible to change as media attitudes change. The media of course constitute a disparate collection which include not merely television and radio but the cinema, advertising, newspapers, magazines, and pamphlets. In a review of mass media coverage of mental health issues, Philo et al.i5) commented on the upsurge in the amount of research into public attitudes to mental illness which has been a feature of the past decade. This increase in interest relates at least in part to the implementation of community care legislation and the recognition of the need to create a more positive social climate in which it is acceptable to seek help without fear of discrimination and stigmatization. Several studies {1 !Z and !.8> provide information which cautiously suggests that public attitudes are changing for the better. More people admit to knowing someone in their family who has had a mental illness, believe in the importance and the usefulness of treatment, and would be happy to employ or live next to someone mentally ill. The role of voluntary organizations, including the National Association for Mental Health (MIND) and the National Schizophrenia Fellowship, in highlighting the plight of the mentally ill and the need for better and more accessible services, and in rewarding good practice in press reporting and broadcasting, is likewise an important positive one. While mental health professionals often avoid the media for fear of misquotation and oversimplification, there are examples of the successful use of the media to communicate information about mental health issues. ^l!.9,,20

However, concern remains regarding media coverage of mental illness. The first major study, (2!> conducted by Nunally in 1961, indicated an essentially negative portrayal of the mentally ill in the media, and subsequent studies suggest that not a great deal has changed. (2 23 and 24) In a more recent summary/25' Philo concluded: 'the results show clearly that ill-informed beliefs on, for example, the association of schizophrenia with violence, can be traced directly back to media accounts'.

One medium that has manifested a fascination with psychiatry and psychiatric illness since its beginnings is the cinema, and it too has been accused by critics of reinforcing powerful negative stereotypes of both psychiatrists and psychiatric patients. (2 2Z28 and 29> In one study, involving 487 people who had a family member with severe mental illness, 85.6 per cent identified 'popular movies about mentally ill killers' as the largest single contributor to the stigma of that illness. (30)

To be set against such negative perceptions is the growing trend in published autobiographical accounts of serious mental illness which, in addition to being frank, factual, and detailed, are generally positive concerning the effectiveness of psychiatric intervention. A bibliography of such personal accounts, published in 1996, lists seven anthologies and 48 autobiographies of former patients published since 1980. (31) Some authors are noted writers, poets, and artists, capable of providing a vivid and sharp account of the inner world of mental illness. Several noted psychologists have also written of their own psychiatric ill-health, treatment, and recovery. Such accounts reveal that mental health care professionals themselves can behave in a discriminatory and stigmatizing fashion vis-à-vis colleagues with a history of psychiatric ill-health. (32.,33>

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Funny Wiring Autism

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