Andrew, who runs the wonderful zine ilivesweat (check it out!) gave me a heads up on this interesting and important article about DC Comics’ portrayal of the mentally ill (particularly those with psychotic diagnoses).
The role of the media in encouraging stigmatizing attitudes towards the mentally ill should not be underestimated - especially comics, which have a high readership of adolescents (an age range at which psychotic symptoms most often first present). Media presentations may shape not only the behaviours of the public but also inadvertently the reactions of the disordered themselves: Link et al (1999) suggest that the very act of perceiving the mentally ill as dangerous translates to fact regardless of contrary evidence because “If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences”, (Thomas & Thomas, 1928).
Greg et al (1994) analysed UK media content during a one month period and found that two thirds of items dealing with mental health issues forged a link to violence. Two fifths of participants believed mental illness to be associated with violence and cited the media as their source. Some even accepted this view against personal evidence. Not only are violent stereotypes a concern, but also moralistic and demonising interpretations of senseless crimes as indicative of a sinful nature (Corrigan & Watson, 2005).
Consistently maligning the mentally ill as deviant, violent, evil, and determined to overthrow or hurt the ‘good guys’ (i.e. the neurotypical) serves to stigmatise and further alienate the mentally ill from mainstream society. It constructs a culture of shame around mental illness. It deters the mentally ill from seeking help. It pushes them into struggling alone. It is offensive. It is unnecessary.
Why can’t the explanatory narrative surrounding ‘bad guys’ in comics be that they are just bad? Why do they have to be mentally ill? Why can’t more of the good guys (like Starman) be mentally ill? (“The way it’s depicted so often with villains is that the guy is bad because of his mental illness. That mental illness completely defines him, and that’s just not how it is in real life.”)
If you’re not reading Mind Over Matter, you ought to be, especially if you’re interested in learning about mental health. Even if you’re neurotypical, it’s important to be aware, so you’re in a better position to support friends and family should they ever need you.