Media depictions of mental illness: an analysis of the use of dangerousness

Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 1997 Jun;31(3):375-81. doi: 10.3109/00048679709073847.


Objective: To explore how the commonsense understanding, that those with a mental illness are dangerous, is deployed in a small sample of print media.

Method: The print media sample was subjected to a discourse analysis informed by knowledge of media practices. Materials were read closely and references to mental illness were identified, classified and analysed.

Results: This non-sensational material was shown to provide repeated confirmations of the commonsense understanding that mental illnesses make people unpredictable and dangerous. Close study of the lead article suggested that it was written so that readers had to draw on such understandings to make sense of the account it presented.

Conclusion: The study challenges the notion that media present negative depictions of mental illnesses either because journalists are poorly informed or because 'sensation sells'. It is concluded that media practices directed at engaging readers require the use of cases and a style of writing that forces readers to draw upon commonsense knowledge of mental illness to understand the text. It is argued that this is a deliberate effort to enlist readers as co-creators of the text and thereby increase their interest.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Mass Media*
  • Mental Disorders*
  • Stereotyping