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Mad TV: A History of Mental Illness on Narrative American Television Open Access

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In general, previous research into representation of mental illness in the media have either been very broad in scope, looking at multiple types of mass media (film, TV, news media, art, written fiction, etc.), or very narrow, examining specific stories, films, or brief periods of time. This project aims to fill a gap in the existing literature by focusing on portrayals of mental illness on narrative American Television from the 1940s to the present day. The author used news reports and reviews, books about television, DVDs, and streaming services to gather examples of depictions of mental illness on TV. The representative sample led to several conclusions. First, mental illness has appeared on television from the early days of the medium. Second, I found no evidence to contradict the conclusion drawn by previous scholars that depictions of mental illness on television tend to be negative and stigmatizing, often employing inaccurate stereotypes linking mental illness to violence. Third, positive and sympathetic portrayals of mental illness have also appeared on narrative television throughout its history. Previous research has noted the existence of these representations but has rarely elaborated on them. Meanwhile, television critics seem to believe that positive and accurate portrayals are something new. To be sure, these positive depictions have been and continue to be outnumbered by the negative portrayals, but it’s significant that they have always been a part of the narrative television landscape.

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