Putting television's portrayal of schizophrenia into reverse: an evaluation of the impact on public opinion
- Declarations: The Mental Health Commission of Ireland provided the funds directly to the market research company to conduct the omnibus survey. None of the authors have financial ties with industry.
We examined whether it is possible to use a television programme to improve mental health literacy about schizophrenia by investigating the impact of the introduction of a realistic portrayal of schizophrenia into a popular television soap opera.
A population level omnibus survey method was used. A market research company conducted face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of the Irish population (n = 993). A specifically developed questionnaire was used which included a question on the extent to which the relevant television programme was watched. A grouping variable ‘viewers/non-viewers’ was then created. Groups were subsequently compared for differences in demographic characteristics, mental health literacy and attitudes towards schizophrenia.
Of the sample, 370 were regarded as viewers. When compared, viewers and non-viewers did not differ on demographic characteristics but there were significant differences between the groups in both knowledge and attitudes regarding schizophrenia. Viewers were better informed on where to go for help and were more optimistic regarding the likelihood of recovery. However, on a question regarding willingness to have an intimate relationship with someone with a previous history of mental illness, viewers had greater concerns than non-viewers.
It is possible to use television dramas to educate the public about mental illnesses. Piloting of the educational material may offer an opportunity to refine the storyline so that the relevant messages are clearly communicated.