Public Views on Mentally Ill

By Johnny Ackley


Prior to the late 1960s the public “cared” very little about the mentally ill or public policy regarding the mentally ill (Borinstein, 1992).   Rather it was left up to those in the mental health industry (Psychologist, psychiatrist, nurses, professor, and social workers) to worry about the mentally ill. However an era of deinstitutionalization began in the late 1960s where many mentally ill patients were prematurely released from proper care (Borinstein, 1992).

“What had been a very real but mostly hidden
social issue had become a more visible social problem confronting a
larger public. Lack of planning, social services, psychotropic medicines,
medical facilities, and housing for this newly deinstitutionalized popula-
tion combined to strain the already reduced public and voluntary social
and human service delivery networks. The end result was that many of
the newly deinstitutionalized ended up homeless and on the streets of
America’s cities, becoming a greater part of the American urban land-
scape and grabbing the attention of the news media.”

-Andrew B. Borinstein


It is not a coincidence that the public for the first time had to being to deal with mentally ill in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the rise of the psycho killer genre appeared at the exact same time.

Now that the public had to start forming an opinion of the mentally ill, it is not exactly always accurate and well-informed.  Philo (1997) found that there are still many misconceptions of the mentally ill such as they are more likely to be violent than the general population.  He also found that these beliefs can be traced directly to media representations of the mentally ill (Philo, 1997).

It is interesting to note the relationship between stigma of mentally ill and movies goes both ways.  The Glasgow Media Group found that 85.6% families of the mentally ill stated that movies about mentally ill killers were the largest single contributor to the stigma of that mental illness (Byrne, 1998).

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