That media images of mental illness are frequent, generally inaccurate, and potentially damaging is of great concern to those with mental illnesses, their families, and mental health care professionals. Such concern has led naturally to questions about what can be done to improve this situation. How can the inaccurate and unfavorable media images of mental illness be changed? If they cannot be changed, how can their harmful impact on the thinking and attitudes of the public be minimized? In this chapter I will be discussing some of the strategies adopted by mental health advocates concerned with stigma and with media contributions to stigma. I will also provide specific examples of what is being done to bring about improvement in the mass media portrayal of mental illness and to reduce media-fostered misconceptions.
First of all, there are many organizations dedicated to increasing public understanding of mental illnesses. Numerous studies indicate that the public is, in general, not well informed about even some of the basic facts about mental illnesses. In the Robert Wood Johnson national survey, U.S. citizens described themselves as knowing relatively little about mental illness. Only one in four felt "very well informed" about mental illness, while six of ten agreed that they should know more about it. The survey concluded that "Americans feel better informed about all other health problems tested"--alcoholism, cancer, drug abuse, heart disease, and even AIDS--than about mental illness. 1 It is likely that the public's lack of knowledge about mental illness