ICE blogs

November 27, 2010

TV ’still failing to portray mental illness accurately’

Filed under: Uncategorized, Blogroll, News, ethical space editors blog, Headlines, journalism — news_editor @ 10:16 pm

Prime time television drama still struggles to present an accurate picture of mental illness, a major new study finds.

Making drama out of a crisis, by the mental health initiative, Shift, aims to encourage writers, producers, directors and commissioners of television drama to enter into a debate about these issues and how they portray mental illness on television. Mental health charities, experts and people with mental health problems are keen to join this discussion.

The study looks at three months of TV drama broadcast between 4pm and 11pm on UK terrestrial channels. Researchers found 74 episodes from 34 different programmes that contained mental illness-related storylines. Researchers also spoke to programme makers and members of the public - both with and without personal experience of mental health problems - about portrayals of mental illness in broadcast drama. The report finds that:

- 45 per cent of peak-time programmes with mental illness storylines portrayed people with mental health problems as posing a threat to others;
- 63 per cent of references to mental health were pejorative, flippant or unsympathetic;
- 45 per cent of programmes had sympathetic portrayals, but these often portrayed the characters as tragic victims.

Barry Turner, senior lecturer in journalism at the University of Lincoln, commented: ‘Prime time TV portrays mental illness in a completely distorted and sometimes dangerous manner and escapes Ofcom censure with alarming frequency. This issue represents one of the most serious breaches of media ethics in journalism and TV media generally. There have been some improvements but there is a vast distance to cover, both fictional presentation of mental illness and news coverage is a major contributing factor to the huge stigma still encountered by those with mental health problems.’

- See

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