Mental Health and Society 3: Mental Illness and the News


How is mental illness represented in the news? A 2004 Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) study found that most media representations of mental illness were largely negative, promoting popular stereotypes such as: the rebellious free spirit, the homicidal maniac, the violent seductress, a misunderstood genius, a self-absorbed person, a comic character, a mad scientist, a sly manipulator, a victimized/helpless or depressed person. In this activity you will do your own investigation of how people with mental illnesses are characterized in the media. You will analyze whether you see efforts to understand and give a balanced and accurate representation of mental illness or whether you see an unfair portrayal of individuals living with mental illness.


1. Monitor a range of news media outlets for a week and collect a minimum of five recent or archived (older) articles which speak about people with mental illness. You could also find commentaries about coverage of a story related to mental illness. Try to choose articles from a variety of sources, and with international, national and local coverage. You may want to use delicious, a free online social bookmarking tool to track and keep notes on the news articles you come across in your research.

If you are having trouble finding articles, you may want to include 2-3 selections from the "Mass Media and Mental Illness" literature review (available under Assignment Documents below). Take a look at the end of the resource to find examples of mental illness in television, movies and advertising.

2. Assemble these articles and analyze each one's portrayal of mental illness through class blogs. Identify the central narrative of the story and how mental illness plays into it. Is the portrayal positive, negative or neutral? Please include a full bibliographic listing for each article so that can be found by your classmates, if they're interested in reading the full article.

3. Comment on at least one of your classmate's blog posts. How do their findings compare to your own?

Learning Objectives

  • Advance critical thinking and media literacy skills
  • Develop language and creative writing skills
  • Improve debating and public discussion skills

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