HLTHAGE 2G03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Corporate Social Responsibility, Lobotomy, Advertising Campaign

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Lecture 2: Media Representations of Mental Illness Monday, Jan 16th, 2017
Where do we learn about mental illness?: Most people don't get formal teaching. Usually all through
the media or personal experience. Professional or social media (TV News, Newspapers, Literature,
Television, Movies, Social Media). How is Mental illness depicted?
Why Media Matters:
Influences popular public attitudes, more so than contact/ knowing someone.
o Research from as early as the 1930s documents negative depictions of mental illness in
the media.
With exception of negative stereotypes, people with mental illness usually absent. 9/10 times
usually does not give the person themselves a voice. instead tend to give a voice to the "doctors
or professionals".
o Facilitates exclusion-as if they don't exist= the voices of those diagnosed don't actually
matter. = the most important voices belong to those who" Deal with the problems" ie.
the doctors.
Portrayals appear primarily as negative tropes. = never really asked to empathise with the
o EX: People as weak or flawed, crazy/unstable(Has become a synonym for mental health
issues), not regular/. abnormal, exclusion (separated from the normal), dangerous,
attention seeking/selfish, sick role/disabled, lazy/disinclination, dramatic, burdensome,
(The person is a drain on the care taker... how do you cope with this?)
Media serves to misinform the mass public on mental health issues and treatments. It
mischaracterizes individuals, practitioners, nature of mental health, possibilities of mental
health issues. = characterized inaccurately.
Media pressured by industry standards to sell news, not accurately report. = entice them.
For mental illness, lacking a physical manifestation, representations are crucial. Representations
inform what "it" is. What its nature is. mental illness is essentially whatever we say it is. how we
depict it= shapes it.
Mental illness lacking in concrete form, is a venue for projection. People project upon mental
illness their desires, fears, worries, hopes etc.. = society decides what should be changed,
punished, eliminated etc..
Media is central in construction difference. Deciding what's normal or not. representations are
critical in helping to create the boundaries of who belongs and who doesn't belong. = who are
sick and need to be altered through therapy, institutions etc..
Major Themes:
Dangerous and violent: On TV 1 in 4 mentally ill individuals murder, 50% commit violent acts. =
Disproportionate to the reality. REALITY: far more often victims than perpetrators of violent
Unpredictable: People as chemically imbalanced, ready to fly off the hinge at any moment= as if
behaving without internal logic.
Lacking Intelligence and Awareness: People conflate mental disorder with intellectual
impairment. But really no correlation between IQ & Mental health.
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Females as insatiable seductresses: Mentally ill women are constantly throwing themselves at
men. EX: Early career Angelina Jolie.
Mad Genius: common trope. A person's mental illness gives them intellectual genius or no
intelligence. EX: Van Gogh, Sheldon Cooper, Robin Williams.
Pitiable innocents: themes of helplessness. doesn't know any better, can't do any better= needs
our pity and charity.
Media misrepresentation and misuse has led to popular misunderstanding of terms (Illnesses,
treatments, ideas. = predominantly negative portrayal of the sufferer. = don't do it with physical
illnesses but we do with mental health.
o EX: Psychotic relates to psychosis: Hallucinations (sensory experiences without stimulus
that others see/hear/ recognize) & Delusion (Person has a deeply held belief even if it's
been proven to them that it's not true) But we see /know psychotic as violence.
o Schizophrenia: we see it as split or multiple personalities but no reality there.
o Mania: euphoric feeling. Episodes of mania= feel really good, accomplish a lot, others
moving slowly, bipolar disorder. Instead we associate with maniac, delusional,
o OCD: Think people need order and cleanliness.
o Depression: we see sadness and depression as the same thing or without clear
SPLIT: movie about multiple personality disorder made into a horror movie. = notion about
dangerousness, psychotic illness, belief system that he has that he needs to be made known.
Professional had a masters disease in psychology. "With his mind he can change his body
chemistry" , mental illness= violent.
Chemical Imbalances:
Media dominated by notion of "Chemical imbalance" As the cause of depression. or mental
illness. = balance that a person ought to have.
No consensus that this is a cause within the scientific population. Instead it's a claim made by
marketers rather than neuroscientists. but not a verified scientific theory.
o Filtered down to frontline professionals, but written off as baseless by most research-
focused psychiatrists.
Reinforces notions of unpredictability, permanence of mental disorder. = chaotic nature.
Creates moral imperative of 'taking your meds". Antidepressants. = find your balance again. but
when diagnosed they don't measure your neurotransmitters.
Media fails to seek valid research and source material to support these claims.
Journalism and mental illness:
when someone does something negative and has a mental illness it's mentioned in the press.
o Positive stories only told from an "overcoming" Perspective.
For many people, media is primary source of information about mental illness.
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