Mental illness depictions in prime-time drama: identifying the discursive resources


  • Wilson,

  • Raymond Nairn,

  • John Coverdale,

  • Aroha Panapa


Objective: The aim of this study was to determine how the mentally ill are depicted in prime-time television dramas.

Method: Fourteen television dramas that included at least one character with a mental illness, shown in prime-time during a 1-year period, were systematically viewed and analysed.

Results: Fifteen of the 20 mentally ill characters were depicted as physically violent toward self or others. Characters were also depicted negatively as simple or lacking in comprehension and appearing lost, unpredictable, unproductive, asocial, vulnerable, dangerous to self or others because of incompetent behaviours, untrustworthy, and social outcasts, and positively as caring or empathic.

Conclusions: These data are consistent with an overwhelming negativity of depictions of the mentally ill found in other forms of media and settings, and contribute to the stigmatisation of this population.