Mental Illness in The Media: How Narrow Portrayals Invoke a System of Stigmatization Open Access

Katz, Alexandra (Spring 2018)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/b8515n409?locale=en
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Abstract

The rates of mental illness are steadily increasing among young adults in the United States. Therefore, it’s imperative that we understand the right treatment methods for the mentally ill. However, there is a profound lack of research regarding why only some at risk individuals seek and receive the help they so desperately need. Throughout my studies at Emory University in both the Psychology department and Interdisciplinary Studies department, I have begun to notice a connection between a lack of treatment and stigma. In fact, many studies suggest that labelling an individual as “mentally ill” impedes their treatment and chance at recovery. Therefore, it’s crucial that we begin to address the stigma surrounding mental illness. While there are a multitude of influences on the stigma surrounding mental illness, I argue that one of the strongest influencers is the media. By looking at three popular televisual media texts released in the last twenty years, set in the 1950s and 1960s at psychiatric institutions, I can begin to assess and examine where these stigmas originate. Out of the three texts, two fall under the genre of horror. The last film is characterized as drama. I am also looking at a mix of films and television series to be able to generalize the information. The films I am using are Shutter Island, which was released in 2010, and Girl, Interrupted, which was released in 1999. The television series I am analyzing is American Horror Story: Asylum, which is the second season of the popular FX show. Drawing heavily from disciplines of psychology, media studies, women’s gender studies, sociology, and cultural theory, this thesis project uses both film analysis, critical film reviews, and theory to showcase the different stereotypes of mental illness. This project does not seek to increase frequency of treatment and knowledge surrounding mental illness but aims to examine some of the ways that popular representations of mental illness shape broader stigmas. I refer to this cycle as a system of stigmatization due to false media portrayals. Concluding remarks are offered as an outline for future research regarding ways to approach this issue. This includes ways to change the media narratives about mental illness and discusses various education platforms to inform the public. 

Table of Contents

CHAPTER 1: The Extraordinary Prevalence of Mental Health and Its Media Portrayal ………  1

CHAPTER 2: The Necessary Dissection of Media ……………………………………………..  7

 Cultural Theory Within Society………………………………………………………………..  7

 How Images Reflect Our Cultural Understanding……………………………………………. 17

 Mental Illness in Popular Culture…………………………………………………………….. 20

CHAPTER 3: Tracking Mental Illness Throughout History …………………………………... 23

 Mental Illness from Ancient Times to the 18thCentury ……………………………………… 23

 History of Mental Illness and Mental Health Care in the United States ……………………… 26

 The Not So Insane Asylum …………………………………………………………………… 28

 Background of American Psychiatry …………………………………………………………. 30

 The Freudian Effect …………………………………………………………………………... 33

 The 1950s and 1960s …………………………………………………………………………. 34

CHAPTER 4: The Violent Portrayal of Mentally Ill in Televisual Media …………………….. 35

CHAPTER 5: Horror, Religion, and Mental Illness …………………………………………… 43

CHAPTER 6: The Hysterical Female ………………………………………………………….. 52

CHAPTER 7: Moving Forward ………………………………………………………………... 58

 Final Observations ……………………………………………………………………………. 58

 Changing the Narrative ……………………………………………………………………….. 63

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