Mental disorders in art and literature

Mental disorders have often been featured in art and literature.



Motion pictures

Many motion pictures portray mental illness in inaccurate ways, leading to misunderstanding and heightened stigmatization of the mentally ill. Some movies, however, are lauded for dispelling stereotypes and providing insight into mental illness. In a study by George Gerbner, it was determined that 5 percent of 'normal' television characters are murderers, while 20% of 'mentally-ill' characters are murderers. 40% of normal characters are violent, while 70% of mentally-ill characters are violent. Contrary to what is portrayed in films and television, Henry J. Steadman, Ph.D., and his colleagues at Policy Research Associates found that, overall, formal mental patients did not have a higher rate of violence than the control group of people who were not formal mental patients. In both groups, however, substance abuse was linked to a higher rate of violence. (Hockenbury and Hockenbury, 2004)


Many popular television shows feature characters with a mental health condition. Often these portrayals are inaccurate and reinforce existing stereotypes, thereby increasing stigma associated with having a mental health condition. Common ways that television shows can generate misunderstanding and fear are by depicting people with these conditions as medically noncompliant, violent, and/or intellectually challenged. However, in recent years certain organizations have begun to advocate for accurate portrayals of mental health conditions in the media, and certain television shows have been applauded by mental health organizations for helping to dispel myths of these conditions...

One show, Wonderland, went on the air in 2000 and only lasted several episodes. It was largely critically acclaimed, but pressure from mental health advocates and people with mental health conditions who felt that the show perpetuated stereotypes and contributed to the stigma attached to them led to the show's cancellation.

In 2005, the shows Huff, Monk, Scrubs and ER all won Voice Awards from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for their positive portrayal of people who manage mental health conditions. Neal Baer, executive producer of ER and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit also won a lifetime achievement award for his work in incorporating mental health issues into these two shows.

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