Media, madness and misrepresentation: Critical reflections on anti-stigma discourse

Stephen Harper*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In the last 10 years, media studies have started to address the problem of the stigmatization of mental illness in the media. This article argues that while much of this work has been invaluable in identifying unsatisfactory media representations of madness, it also contains certain argumentational and theoretical weaknesses. Anti-stigma discourse, it is claimed, tends to homogenize the texts it examines and can even contribute to the stigmatization of popular culture. It is also overreliant on an individualistic definition of violence and on notions of representational 'accuracy' and verisimilitude, while inadvertently misrepresenting the statistics about mental illness and violence. While it argues for the vital importance of anti-stigma research and criticism, the article recommends that critics pay more attention to the exigencies of particular media forms, and to the social and political functions, as well as the 'accuracy', of media images of madness.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)460-483
Number of pages24
JournalEuropean Journal of Communication
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2005


  • Media studies
  • Mental illness
  • Representation
  • Stigmatization
  • Violence


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