Background: Numerous studies have established proof of selective media reporting about the mentally ill, with the majority of the reports focusing almost exclusively on violence and dangerousness. A handful of studies found that there is an association between negative media portrayals and negative attitudes toward people with mental illness. However, empirical evidence of the impact of newspaper reports about mentally ill people on readers' attitudes is very scarce.
Aims: To examine the impact of a newspaper article linking mentally ill persons with violent crime and the impact of an article providing factual information about schizophrenia on students' attitudes toward people with mental illness.
Method: A total of 167 students aged 13-18 years were randomly assigned one of two articles. A period of 1 week before and 3 weeks after reading the newspaper article, they were asked to complete a self-administered questionnaire for the assessment of their attitudes toward mentally ill people.
Results: Respondents who read the article linking mentally ill persons with violent crime displayed an increased likelihood to describe a mentally ill person as dangerous and violent. Conversely, respondents who read the informative article used terms like 'violent' or 'dangerous' less frequently. The desire for social distance remained virtually unchanged at follow-up in both groups.
Conclusion: Two potential approaches to break the unwanted link between negative media reporting and negative attitudes are suggested. First, an appeal to media professionals to report accurate representations of mental illness. And second, an appeal to the adults living and working with adolescents to provide opportunities to discuss and reflect on media contents.