Friday, February 13, 2015

Disney, other kids' programming to blame for negative perceptions of mentally ill.

When Belle's father in Beauty and the Beast was falsely accuses of lunacy, the village people of the quaint provincial town where they dwelled proceeded to lock him up in his dingy basement. When Dumbo's mother had aggressive outburst brought upon by stress, she was immediately bound by chains and exiled to a metallic prison. What message does this send to children about the mentally ill?

Primarily, they are taught early on to adopt a derisive attitude toward the mentally ill. Rather than highlighting the fact that most mentally ill patients are merely seeking treatment and are in no ways violent, children's shows all to often depict an unrealistic portrayal of these members of society, more often than not casting them as villains in their narratives.

'The predominant presentation of characters with mental illness is as violent, aggressive, and fear inducing,' says Professor Otto Wahl, in his study, 'Mental Illness in Children's Media'. 'They tend to be unattractive in personal appearance, typically fail in life, can look forward to being ridiculed by others, and seldom benefit from treatment.'

The problem lies with the fact that exposure from a young age inculcates this demented view of the mentally ill in children, planting the seeds that will germinate within them for the rest of their lives. With such problematic prototypes of the mentally ill planted in their minds, children don't develop the empathy they need to help them as adults.

The trouble is that prejudice begins at infancy, says Wahl, of George Mason University, Virginia. 'Children are soaked in unsympathetic images of mentally ill individuals - "crazies, schizos, nutters or loonies" - who are described as mad, bad and dangerous', he says. 'Then in adult life, when they encounter a close friend or relative with depression or schizophrenia, they cannot cope or help.

Disney - and all forms of media targeting young kids - should take responsibility for their representation and try to instill more positive messages that focus on treatment and recovery in their mentally ill characters, rather than casting them as objects to ridicule and defeat.

Children have the most impressionable minds of any group in society, and thus it is essential to send positive messages to them about all members of society. Just as TV shows try to forge a climate of acceptance toward different races, children should be taught to appreciate people regardless of their cognitive state.

Kids' films stigmatize the metally ill. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2015, from

1 comment:

  1. What a great topic. If you have not already seen "Girl Interrupted" and "Lars and the Real Girl" - check them out!