The way mental illness is portrayed on TV may affect bias

Mental health disorders, unlike physical conditions, have a wide-ranging impact on not just a patient, but on an individual's entire social network.

There is also the long-standing issue of stigma associated with mental illness, especially in Asian cultures.

It is heartening that the Government has been ramping up measures to promote mental health awareness in the community in recent years. One commendable commitment is this year's President's Challenge, which is dedicated to raising funds for those living with mental disorders. Every bit of effort plays a part in creating a true mindset shift.

Recently, I noted that prime-time Channel 8 dramas have incorporated characters living with a mental disorder that results in them becoming irritable and committing crimes.

One example is a character in the recently concluded Hello Miss Driver drama series. One of the female characters appeared to have some hallucinatory experiences that suggested a developing psychotic illness, and eventually went on to commit arson in the show.

While it is good to showcase the struggles faced by people living with mental illness, I am concerned that the public may unwittingly make biased associations as they watch such shows, where someone is diagnosed with a mental health condition and subsequently goes on to break the law or social norms. This may worsen the already tainted image of people living with a mental health disorder.

Having said this, I must also laud efforts to highlight the plight of caregivers and those struggling with a mental health disorder or physical disability through other documentary productions.

I remain hopeful that the Government, media and public are making great strides to build an inclusive society and fighting hard against the stigma associated with mental health disorders.

Lan Zhongzheng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2019, with the headline 'The way mental illness is portrayed on TV may affect bias'. Print Edition | Subscribe