Recently a study was published by Shift, the government initiative to tackle stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health issues in England, which found that, despite distinct improvements over recent years, prime time television drama continues to struggle to present an accurate picture of mental illness.
The report found that:
- 63% of references to mental health were flippant, unsympathetic, or showed a low opinion about the sufferer
- 45% of TV programmes shown at peak time with mental illness story-lines portrayed people with mental health problems as posing a threat to others
- 45% of programmes had sympathetic portrayals of mental illness, but these often portrayed the characters as tragic victims.
All too often characters in hit prime-time TV shows deliver flippant lines in reference to mental illness, including things like; "crackpot", "basket case", and "sad little psycho".
|Eastender's was praised for it's |
portrayal of mental illness
with character Stacey Slater
Admittedly, progress has been made in some television shows. BBC soap Eastenders was praised for its portrayal of bipolar disorder with the character of Stacey Slater. However, even in this case. the same character eventually committed murder.
The depiction of another character with bipolar disorder on Channel 4 drama Shameless was both accurate and sensitive - which it, deservedly, was highly praised for. (Although this programme still showed the same character attacking her partner.)
In both of the above cases, however, it could be argued that violence and mental illness were used together in order to create tragic drama.
|Vincent and the Doctor|
Of all the recent portrayals of mental illness on television I found Doctor Who's depiction of Vincent van Gogh, the famous painter whom suffered from depression and eventually committed suicide, to have been the most sensitive and sympathetic. Despite the tragic nature of the character's story, the show still presented a positive and uplifting view of mental illness.
Although significant improvements have been made to the representations of mental illness and mental health issues in recent years, there is still a lot of progress to be made.