Research carried out at the University of Leicester suggests that the British press may be guilty of misguiding the public and promoting distorted views of mental illness.
Both the tabloid and the broadsheet press have consistently given disproportionate and sensationalized coverage to psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, often linking them to serious crime. This is producing a very damaging misunderstanding not only of such psychotic conditions but is also damaging the portrayal of the more common neurotic illnesses, according to Leicester's Department of Media and Communication graduate, Katy-Louise Morgan.
Miss Morgan commented: "Despite an era of political correctness, the mentally ill are among the few remaining groups being continually subjected to stigmatization. This victimization is contributing towards prejudice amongst the public."
Psychotic illness is most commonly reported in connection with violent crimes such as murder, causing newspaper readers to make unrealistic links between mental illness and violent crimes.
Miss Morgan added, "The misconception is two-fold. Firstly, schizophrenia and other psychotic illnesses are actually among the least common of all mental illnesses. Secondly, not all schizophrenics are murderers nor conversely are all murderers schizophrenic." Indeed, most schizophrenic patients are not prone to violence.
"More disturbing is that an overrepresentation of psychosis within the British press could mean a greater generalisation of mental illness especially in the portrayals of neurosis. The worry here is that if the press maintains this representation of mental illness it could influence the public's perception and they may begin to see the two different diagnostic categories interchangeably.
"In their quest to sell more newspapers the British press is sacrificing an objective portrayal of mental illness. In order for mental illness to become more accepted and understood, more accurate and favourable presentations must be offered by the media"