Media portrayal of mentally disordered offenders: a case study
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Media portrayal of mentally disordered offenders: a case study

Jodie Alder Staff nurse, South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust, University of Manchester

Jodie Alder goes behind the headlines to show how the media’s treatment of people with mental health problems can cause further problems and stigmatisation

The negative portrayal by the media of people diagnosed with a mental health disorder who commit crime can have profound effects on all concerned. In cases where the manslaughter of a stranger occurs in a public place, the media coverage is widespread and affects the offender, the victim’s family, mental health services and even the care, treatment and legislation of all of those diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

This article will use the case of John Barrett, who murdered a stranger, Denis Finnegan, in a London park. It will demonstrate how, and attempt to understand why, media saturation occurs. A thematic analysis of newspaper coverage representing this case was undertaken with reference to existing literature, which provided three themes: the mentally disordered offender as ‘other’, the concept of blame and race.

Mental Health Practice. 19, 7, 16-21. doi: 10.7748/mhp.19.7.16.s17


Peer review

This article has been subject to double-blind review and has been checked using antiplagiarism software

Conflict of interest

None declared

Received: 20 March 2013

Accepted: 19 July 2013