Profiting from prejudice

Graham Thornicroft

in Shunned

Published on behalf of ©Graham Thornicroft

Published in print July 2003 | ISBN: 9780198570981
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754463 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

Profiting from prejudice

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Our popular images of madness are both long-standing and remarkably stable. One of the best established patterns is to refer to people with mental illnesses as the ‘polar opposites’ of ‘us’.This chapter will discuss these contemporary anxieties, and how they shape the way mental illnesses are portrayed in films, in the broadcast and in the print media.

Most people gather what they know about mental illnesses either from personal contact with people with such conditions, or from the mass media. Remarkably little is formally taught on mental disorders in any part of the educational system. Nevertheless, contact with people with mental illness is common. A nationwide representative survey of almost 2000 people in the UK asked ‘Do you know someone with mental illness?’, and 52 per cent said yes. When the survey was repeated in 2003 the question was rephrased to ask about seven specific diagnoses, and this time 77 per cent said that they knew at least one person with a specific mental disorder. But even when we have direct personal contact with people with mental illness, the way we interpret these experiences is heavily influenced by three things: our background knowledge of what these diagnoses mean, our attitudes on what emotional reactions toward mentally ill people are socially acceptable, and our understanding of what types of behaviour towards people with mental illness are socially allowed. The main flows of information to us are through the channels of the mass media, so the content of these streams of information (on knowledge, attitudes and behaviour) are of the utmost importance

Chapter.  7052 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Psychiatry

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