Feature Medicine and the Media

How to stop making a crisis out of a drama: towards better portrayal of mental ill health in television and film

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.h2307 (Published 01 May 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h2307
  1. Rowena Carter, core trainee year 2 psychiatry, South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London SE5 8AZ, UK
  1. rowena.carter{at}slam.nhs.uk

On-screen depictions of psychiatry are ubiquitous, but if inaccurate or unsympathetic they can lead to stigma. Rowena Carter considers a campaign that works with scriptwriters to help

Consider famous depictions of psychiatry in television and film drama over the past 50 years. Many examples have reinforced negative stereotypes of people with mental illness, such as violence, lunacy, incompetence, and that they are untreatable. Frasier (1993-2004) was a television series about a US therapist who was more neurotic than his patients. Psycho (1960) is about a man with “multiple personalities,” presumably schizophrenia, who is a calculated murderer. And One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) was set in a draconian psychiatric institution from which escape was (near) impossible.

Fortunately, societal attitudes have started to change. Celebrities with mental illness have started “coming out,” increasing awareness and reducing stigma. For example, Catherine Zeta Jones and Stephen Fry have bipolar affective disorder, and Emma Thompson has depression. The swimmer Michael Phelps has been diagnosed as having attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and Elton John has spoken about his substance misuse and bulimia.

The Time to Change campaign was launched by UK charities Mind and Rethink in 2007, aiming to reduce discrimination and improve attitudes towards people with mental illness, particularly …

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