Using force: Australian newspaper depictions of contacts between the police and persons experiencing mental illness
The media creates and sustains knowledge about socially relevant issues such as crime, mental illness, and policing. Past research suggests that while the media portrayal of the police is undoubtedly complex, their portrayal of people experiencing mental illness remains mainly negative. The depiction of their encounters in the mass media is of considerable interest because of the influential role the media has on public opinion and debate; however, there is a lack of current research in this area. This study aimed to examine media items in the major newspapers across Australia between January 2006 and December 2007 (n = 77) to investigate their portrayal of this interface. The dominant themes encountered in the initial analysis depicted people experiencing mental illness as dangerous and a threat to the public, where the mental health system has failed to manage them adequately. Further analyses found that people experiencing mental illness were stigmatised in a third of the media items reviewed and were represented significantly more negatively in these encounters than the police. Implications of these findings and some suggestions regarding possible strategies that could improve socially responsible media reporting and public discourse on mental illness are proposed.