Psychosis Portrayed in the Media

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Impact of Media’s Portrayal of Psychotic Illness on Viewers

Introduction

Psychotic disorders are the more serious form of mental illness, particularly schizophrenia. Many multidimensional factors have contributed to the social stigma of psychotic mental illness, deeming it a social problem. According to Landsberg and Rock (2010), stigma and discrimination impacts policy and program response to the issue, causing limitations on our financing. As a result, there is a deficiency of resources provided by macro and micro level systems for individuals battling with the illness despite a recent shift in society’s perception. Programs such as National Alliance for the Mentally Ill and the Recovery Movement have been trying to increase public understanding of the illness, advocate for government resources, and emphasize supportive networks such as family, friends, and mental health providers (Hertz, 2010). Unfortunately, the complexity of this illness and lack of thorough understanding continues to reinforce and sustain the stigma. Additionally, individuals discharged into the community from institutions have not been well supported by micro-level services. As a result, many commit crimes and end up in jail. Landsberg and Rock (2010) found that many seriously mentally ill patients are in nursing homes, homeless shelters, and jails because of unmet needs. Community mental health centers have more patients than staff can handle (Hertz, 2010). In spite of various attempts, the mental health system is comprised of programs that “don’t work”, leaving many seriously ill individuals without proper care (Landsberg and Rock, 2010, pg. 258).

These wide ranges of factors contribute to viewing serious mental illness as a social problem that is stigmatized as well. In terms of social stigma, there are several misconceptions. Hertz (2010) found that the public misperceives people with psychotic illness as homicidal. The truth of research indicates that these individuals are more frequently victims of crime perpetrated by others, or, tragically, by their own hands (Hertz, 2010). Unfortunately, the daunting ways in which symptoms may manifest prevent people from establishing any positive associations with such illness.

The media portrays psychotic disorders through different perspectives, ultimately sending mixed messages to audiences about the nature and prospects of the illness. Landsberg and Rock (2010) stated that movies often picture the mentally ill as violent, negatively affecting our society’s willingness to enact needed changes and fund programs. The movies A Beautiful Mind, K-PAX, and The Soloist each portray a character living with a psychotic disorder, particularly Schizophrenia, who also demonstrates strength and resilience in their struggles. The intent of this paper is to discuss characteristics of psychotic illness, critically analyze these movies and their message to audiences, and assess accuracy within their portrayals.

Brief History of Mental Illness as a Social Problem

There are conflicting ideologies in terms of how to approach serious mental illness in the United States. While some adopt a “survival of the fittest” perspective and believe affected individuals shouldn’t receive assistance, others act as committed advocates for programs to service them. When looking at the recent history of mental health, several attempts at revolutionizing systems were made, and always seem to only partially work. As a result, more systems that partially work were created. The 1950’s through the 1970’s emphasized inpatient hospitalization for psychotic patients without much chance for their self-determination and self-empowerment. Solutions were very problem-focused, and patients received their treatment of insulin shock therapy. Socially, there seemed to be more emphasis on regarding anyone with a psychotic illness as “crazy”, and therefore someone to stay away from. The deinstitutionalization movement in the...
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