Research has demonstrated that the media has an important role to play in informing and influencing community attitudes to mental illness and people affected by mental illness.  A summary of findings from a critical review of the national and international literature1 is provided below. 
The media is an important source of information for many people about mental health and mental illness.

  • A German study found that the media is the most important source of information for many people on mental health and illness and that negative media reports were more commonly recalled than positive ones2.
  • A number of American studies also found that the media is an important source of information about mental health issues3,4.

Mental illness tends to be portrayed negatively in news media, with coverage promoting negative images and stereotypes.

  • An Australian study found that electronic and print media coverage often reflects and perpetuates the myths and misunderstandings associated with mental illness5
  • A study of newspaper items on mental illness in a New Zealand newspaper in 1997 found that mental illness was portrayed negatively and that people with a mental illness were portrayed as a danger and a threat to the community6.

Courts are an important source of information for media stories involving mental illness.

  • Australian research has shown that the most problematic type of news coverage about mental illness results from information collected at court or from the police7. Many of these stories focus on violence and relate to specific and relatively rare circumstances. Audiences, however, are likely to make generalisations about people with a mental illness as a result.

Negative reporting of mental illness has a direct effect on attitudes.

  • Individuals citing the media as the most important source of their information had more negative attitudes towards mental illness8
  • Media accounts of mental illness that instil fear have a greater influence on public opinion than direct contact with people who have mental illness9.
  • A number of studies demonstrated that exposure to negative stories, both fictional and non-fictional, had a direct effect on attitudes which was not altered by subsequent exposure to positive stories10,11.
  • A German study found that students who read negative articles about mental illness express more negative attitudes toward people with a mental illness12.
    Negative portrayal impacts directly on people living with a mental illness
  • Three quarters of consumers of mental health services in a UK study felt that media coverage was ‘unfair, unbalanced or very negative’, while 50% believed media portrayal of mental health issues had ‘a negative effect on their mental health’13.
  • A survey by SANE Australia found that 95% of consumers believed that negative portrayals of mental illness had an effect on them and 80% reported that the effect was negative. Consumers described direct effects including distress, perceptions of stigma and self-stigma14.
    A more comprehensive summary of the research evidence is available from here.



[1] Francis, C., Pirkis, J., Dunt, D., & Blood, R. W. (2001). Francis, C., Pirkis, J., Dunt, D., & Blood, R. W. (2001). Mental health and illness in the media: A review of the literature. Canberra: Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing.
[2] Benkert, O., Graf-Morgenstern, M., Hillert, A., Sandman, J., Ehmig, S.C., Weissbecker, H., et. al. (1997). Public opinion on psychotropic drugs: An analysis of the factors influencing acceptance or rejection. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 185, 151-158.
[3] Granello, D., Pauley, P., & Carmichael, A. (1999). Relationship of the media to attitudes towards people with mental illness. Journal of Humanistic Counselling Education and Development, 38, 98-103.
[4] Lopez, L. R. (1991). Adolescent’s attitudes toward mental illness and perceived sources of their attitudes: An examination of pilot data. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 5, 271-80.
[5] Hyler, S. E., Gabbard, G. O., & Schneider, I. (1991). Homicidal maniacs and narcissistic parasites: Stigmatisation of mentally ill persons in the movies. Hospital and Community Psychiatry, 42, 1044-1048.
[6] Allan, R., & Nairn, R. G., (1997). Media depiction of mental illness: An analysis of the use of dangerousness. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 31, 375-381.
[7] Dare A., Pirkis J., Blood R.W., Rankin B., Williamson S., Burgess P. & Jolley D. (In Press). The Media Monitoring Project: Changes in Media Reporting of Suicide and Mental Health and Illness in Australia, 2000/01 - 2006/07. Centre for Health Policy, Programs and Economics, The University of Melbourne: Melbourne.
[8] Granello, D., Pauley, P., & Carmichael, A. (1999). Op cit.
[9] Rosen, A., Walter, G., Politis, T., & Shortland, M. (1997). From shunned to shining: Doctors, madness and psychiatry in Australian and New Zealand cinema. Medical Journal of Australia, 167, 640-644.
[10] Domino, G. (1983). Impact of the film ‘One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest’, on attitudes towards mental illness. Psychological Reports, 53, 170-182.
[11] Wahl, O. F., & Lefkowits, J. Y. (1989). Impact of a television film on attitudes towards mental illness. American Journal of Community Psychology, 1794, 521-528.
[12] Dietrich, S., Heider, D., Matschinger, H., Angermeyer, M. C. (2006). Influence of newspaper reporting on adolescents’ attitudes toward people with mental illness. Social Psychology and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 41, 318-322
[13] Ferriman, A. (2000). The stigma of schizophrenia. British Medical Journal,320, 522.
[14] SANE Australia. (2005). Make it real! A report on consumer impressions of and responses to film and television portrayals of mental illness and suicide. A consultation project conducted by SANE Australia for the National Media and Mental Health Working Group.