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Sunday 23rd October 2016

Mental health and the media

3rd October 2008

Angela Greatley, chief executive of the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, discusses mental health and the media.


Mass media, both in the UK and abroad focuses disproportionately on violent acts committed by people with severe mental illness, yet rarely pauses to consider the lives people with mental conditions lead.

Public prejudice and ignorance also contribute to the problem.

The media in the west has focussed on people with mental illness at various times in recent years, the latest example being the case of Darren Harkin, who raped a 14-year-old girl after escaping from a low secure hospital.

It is right that such events are discussed in the media. However they are so often “bound up in inaccurate and outdated stereotypes.”

Radio 4’s Today programme combined the Harkin case with figures of other “escapes” from units, yet failed to include any contextual information.

Lazy stereotyping has a pernicious effect on everyone and the “drip, drip” of messages about certain sectors of society does shape the way the public perceives, and consequently, misunderstands them.

All who work in the mental health sector, or campaign in that area, have a role to play in trying to combat such prejudices.

Without an all-out effort to correct such errors, or engage in argument with those who repeat them – at whatever level of the media from national down to local level – the problem will not go away.

The approach needs to be robust.

Only then will progress be made towards overcoming the “barriers that stand in the way of millions of people having the chances they deserve in life.”


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