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Aust N Z J Psychiatry. 1999 Apr;33(2):240-7.

Constructing mental illness as dangerous: a pilot study.

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Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Science, Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, The University of Auckland, New Zealand.



There is a dearth of studies examining how dangerousness is constructed in media depictions of mentally ill individuals who are frequently portrayed as acting violently. The aim of the present study was to identify the contribution of diverse technical, semiotic and discursive resources utilised in portraying a character with a mental illness in a prime-time drama as dangerous.


Discourse analytic techniques, involving systematic, repeated, critical viewings, were applied to a single program drawn from a sample of prime-time television drama episodes touching on mental illness.


Nine devices (appearance, music and sound effects, lighting, language, intercutting, jump-cutting, point of view shots, horror conventions and intertextuality) were identified as contributing to the signified dangerousness of person receiving care in the community for a mental illness.


These techniques combine in signifying mental illness and a person suffering from it as dangerous. The findings suggest that mental health professionals working to reduce the stigma of mental illness need to have a reasonably sophisticated understanding of the practices and priorities of television production if they are to collaborate effectively with producers to create dramas that convey more human and sympathetic understandings of mental illness or to combat the negative effects of such portrayals.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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