A 1997 study found that media accounts of mental illness that instill fear, have a greater influence on public opinion than direct contact with people who suffer from a mental illness. Studies show that exposure to negative stories, both fictional and nonfictional, has a direct effect on attitudes which is not altered by a subsequent exposure to positive stories. An Australian study found that electronic and print media coverage often reflect and perpetuate the myths and misunderstandings associated with mental illness.
The media can be an important source of positive information about mental health issues. Inaccurate and prejudiced assumptions about people with a mental illness can be reduced through increased accurate and helpful reporting in the media. There is no need to stereotype people. The media can break down negative myths and highlight stories about those who successfully manage their illness.
The media can provide information about mental illness and specific mental disorders. But, they should take care only to base the information they report on reliable sources such as mental health experts. The media should encourage people to seek help by providing helpline telephone numbers. They should use appropriate language and avoid victimizing words such as afflicted and suffers, for example. They should also be careful to follow media codes of practice on privacy issues such as grief and trauma.