In a groundbreaking study about the impact of media portrayals of mental illness and addiction, Johns Hopkins researchers, Emma McGinty and colleagues, have found that the majority of individuals with a mental illness or addiction are portrayed in a negative light. In contrast, few news stories, films or television programs, portray individuals who have undergone successful treatment for these conditions. Additional studies have shown that the media wields a powerful influence over how society sees and treats these individuals, so that negative portrayals tend to add to widespread stigma and discrimination.
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National surveys show that many Americans do not wish to work with, or live near, someone with addiction or mental illness. Over half believe that those with an addiction or schizophrenia, are likely to be violent towards others.
An important study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2010 showed that between 1996 and 2006, despite many awareness campaigns, stigma has not decreased. In fact, the percentage of people who thought alcohol dependence was related to ‘bad character’, increased significantly (from 49% to 56%).
Author, Anne M. Fletcher, argues that we need to focus more on success stories and less on negative hype. Fletcher’s fascinating book, Sober for Good, focuses on over 200 people who have successfully left alcoholism behind for an average period of 13 years. Meanwhile, groups like Faces and Voices of Recovery and the related Anonymous People/Many Faces1Voice movement are encouraging people to proudly ‘come out’ with their recovery stories. These groups are working hard to raise awareness of the fact that addiction and mental illness are often biologically based and that these conditions can be successfully treated. Many people have received treatment and gone on to have rich, satisfying lives; we should not allow the media to tarnish the truth.
photo credit: Unsplash – Joshua Earle