Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness

Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness

Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness

Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness


Winner of the 1996 Gustavus Myers Award for an Outstanding Book on Human Rights in North America "Media Madness is a most timely, readable, and useful book, exposing, as it does, the myths about mental illness that most of us live by--myths that are as destructive as they are pervasive. Wahl is especially good at showing, in detail, the many ways in which false views of mental illness, purveyed in the media, shape the ways even the most enlightened of us view the world around us. A most thoughtful, stimulating book, from which I learned a great deal." --Jay Neugeboren, author of Imagining Robert: My Brother, Madness, and Survival--A Memoir

"An outstanding book... well-researched... it is 'must reading.'" --Laurie Flynn, former executive director, National Alliance for the Mentally Ill "The rampant inaccuracies about mental illnesses in newspapers, magazines, movies, and books make it clear that this is not merely stereotyping, but rather a pervasive ignorance. Dr. Wahl's book goes far to explain where the errors are and to educate and sensitize the reader to frequent inaccuracies. In addition, the book is very readable." --NAMI Advocate

"What do the media have to do with one's perception of mental illness? Wahl takes an in-depth look a how unfavorable public images of mental illness are often inaccurate. Statistics show that one out of every five people in the U. S. will experience a psychiatric illness. With boldness and sensitivity, Wahl takes a powerful look at the inaccurate stereotypes created by the media."


I confess. I am a cardinal member of the television generation. As a child, I hurried home from school to beat my siblings to the livingroom chair closest to the television in order to watch black-and-white cartoon animals move awkwardly across the small screen. The most eagerly anticipated event of each week was a trip to my grandmother's house, because she was the first person we knew to have a large-screen television set (and, eventually, a large color TV). We would go on Sundays so my siblings and I could watch Walt Disney Presents while the adults played pinochle in the kitchen. I grew up with The Lone Ranger, Sky King, and Captain Midnight. Even in college, group viewing of Star Trek and Mission Impossible was an important part of my social and recreational life.

When I began to study clinical psychology in graduate school and to learn about psychiatric disorders, however, my television viewing took on added dimensions. I began to notice how frequently mentally ill characters appeared in the shows I was watching, and how commonly those depictions deviated from what I was learning about mental illnesses. I could not help but notice, in addition, how generally unfavorable television depictions of mentally ill persons seemed to be, with most of these characters appearing as killers and villains.

As a student of psychology, I also learned how people's ideas and images of persons and events could influence attitudes and behavior. I learned that beliefs about mental illness did indeed seem to influence people's attitudes toward psychiatric patients and that others often . . .

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