Mass Media and Mental Illness: A Literature Review


Over the past 30 years, a substantial amount of research has been conducted to determine the effect of the mass media on the public’s belief systems. These studies have concluded that the media’s power to influence public perception and the degree to which people are exposed to media representations combine to make the mass media one of the most significant influences in developed societies.

In 2001, the Australian government published a large-scale literature review examining portrayals of mental health in the media (Francis, Pirkis, Dunt, & Blood, 2001). After considering dozens of studies that had analyzed news and entertainment media from around the globe (see Appendix A and Appendix B for tables summarizing the results of those studies), the review determined that media representations of mental illness promote negative images and stereotypes—in particular, the false connection between mental illness and violence. Many other studies have found a definite connection between negative media portrayals of mental illness and the public’s negative attitudes toward people with mental health issues (Coverdale, Nairn, & Claasen, 2002; Cutcliffe & Hannigan, 2001; Diefenbach, 1997; Olstead, 2002; Rose, 1998; Wahl, 1995; Wahl & Roth, 1982; Wilson, Nairn, Coverdale, & Panapa, 1999).

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