Both news and entertainment media show people with mental illness as dangerous, violent, or unpredictable. Many of the individuals who commit these crimes are presumed to have a mental illness and this in turn perpetuates the social stigma that all people with a mental illness are violent or dangerous. Before some of the most recent and deadly mass shootings including the 2016 Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, the 2017 Las Vegas shooting at am outdoor concert, and the 2017 First Baptist Church shooting in Texas, The Virginia Tech shootings was one of the deadliest shootings to date. Taking place in 2007 and ending with 32 dead and 15 wounded, the shooter was perceived to have had a mental illness that caused him to commit this crime.
Hoffner and colleagues conducted a study that examined the perceived influence of news coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings on one’s own and others’ attitudes about mental illness, and behavioral outcomes as a function of personal experience with mental illness. They utilized an online survey of 198 adults within about one month of the shootings. Individuals without a mental illness, the perceived news influence on their own attitudes toward mental illness was associated with more engagement in support/comfort activities and greater likelihood of online opinion expression. In contrast, individuals with a mental illness, perceiving that others attitudes had become more negative was associated with less engagement in support/comfort activities. Respondents with no experience of mental illness reported greater stereotypes about mental illness and less willingness to seek treatment and they expressed more fear and less anger than those who had experience with mental illness.
Mackenzie is a senior majoring in Psychology and minoring in Human Development and Sociology. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in May 2018, she plans on going to graduate school for Social Work.
Hoffner, C. A., Fujioka, Y., Cohen, E. L., & Atwell Seate, A. (2017). Perceived media influence, mental illness, and responses to news coverage of a mass shooting. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 6(2), 159-173. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/ppm0000093