Mental Health Issues in the Media: An Introduction for Health Professionals

Peter Byrne

This is a timely book given the 10 years since Otto Wahl's Media Madness and Greg Philo's Media and Mental Distress. Both were landmark publications in tracing the evolution of influential media representations of psychiatric illness in the USA and UK respectively. We continue to battle the same stereotypes but Morris illustrates several victories where media makers have retreated to regroup. It is contemporary in the objects of its gaze, if not in outlook, and should be recommended reading for students and trainees who may need assistance in seeing the wood from the trees.

Quite rightly, he includes a chapter on literature – from trend-setting classics to the Harry Potter phenomenon. The breadth of UK television and internet examples cited is impressive, not least for how each medium could be used to promulgate positive mental health narratives. He deals with media depictions and reporting of suicide in a sensitive and practical way. Another positive strategy is the book's presumption of a proactive readership: `how to complain' instructions appear throughout. As someone who has taught this subject, he has assembled a solid core of references. I found the opening chapters hard work: lots of arrows with a sprinkling of gestalt theory do not set up the rest of the book. There is only passing reference to advertising and the book would gain from more discussion of commercial imperatives, or why media outlets stigmatise in a particular way. As with the opening sections, the film chapter would benefit from less theory and more examples to engage the reader in the substance of Morris's arguments. Radio gets only one mention a pity given its resurgence with internet access and podcasting, and its relative accessibility to people wanting to restore balanced mental health coverage in asymmetrical warfare.

If you are a mental health professional or service user, and interested in studying and/or changing media representation of mental health problems, there is a definite need for a resource to set out the challenges. This isn't it, but Morris makes a brave sortie to gain an excellent vantage point from which you may plan your campaign.