Infotainment is a term used to describe information-based media content or programming that also includes entertainment content in an effort to enhance popularity with audiences and consumers. The underlying issue with this is that media often spends days reporting on spectacular news, trying to shock audiences and keep their undivided attention. When disastrous events such as mass shootings occur, the news spends a lot of time trying to speculate possible reasons that an individual would do such a terrible thing. The unfortunate aspect of this misinformation is that the news will often peg the criminal with having a “mental disability”. Audiences begin to associate “mental disability” with “mass shootings” or “disastrous events” and stigmas can be created. For instance, the LA times wrote an article on December 16- only two days after the actual shooting, speculating that Adam Lanza, the shooter of the Sandy Hook elementary school in New Town, Connecticut possibly has “Autism”.
This sends a very problematic message to viewers as it subliminally states “he was crazy therefore he must have some sort of mental disorder like autism”. Not only is this information merely a hypothesis for why the events occurred, but it can make people fearful of all individuals with autism.
I have worked for years with youth with Autism, and I have never experienced any violent episodes with them; they are sweet, nurturing and probably the kindest individuals I have ever encountered. Even if Adam Lanza was autistic, it is unfortunate that the media will spend such a drastic amount of time publicizing the negativity of such mental disabilities. Multiple studies indicate that, “…frequency and content of media depictions support clinical observations that mental illness is frequently depicted in the mass media, particularly the entertainment media, and that these depictions tend to be inaccurate and unfavourable” (Wahl, 1992).
However, it is unfair and unrealistic of me to say that all media shows a negative connotation of mental illness. Media, in fact, can also promote understanding and education- although they may not get as many ‘hits’ as a spectacular headline -like the one above- it is essential that they are still being written by journalists. For instance, two months after the shootings, an article by the Atlantic Wire indicates that researchers have found no connection between Adam Lanza’s diagnosis of Aspergers and violence.
As members of public society we must be critical when we read the news or watch television or movies and re-think our stereotypes and stigmas that are created from these sources. Public awareness and self-education is important in beating the stigmas against mental health.
Wahl, O. F. (1992). Mass media images of mental illness: A review of the literature. Journal of Community Psychology, 20(10), 343-352. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/1520-6629(199210)20:4<343::AID-JCOP2290200408>3.0.CO;2-2/abstract
In response to the emphasis on focusing on gun control policies, a mother with a child with a mental disability eloquently responds to the Sandy Hook shooting, proposing that the government spend more time and money treating mental health conditions versus working solely on gun policies.
“I am sharing this story because I am Adam Lanza’s mother. I am Dylan Klebold’s and Eric Harris’s mother. I am Jason Holmes’s mother. I am Jared Loughner’s mother. I am Seung-Hui Cho’s mother. And these boys—and their mothers—need help. In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”