Familiarization with the mental illness or Distortion - Exploitation of reality?

Although psychiatry has progressed substantially during the last two centuries, the fear of mental illness was and still is- a standard element of the behaviour towards the psychiatric patient. On the other hand, in this so called "mass media era" we live in, mental illness and patients are exposed to the public eye by various meansincluding movies, newspaper articles, and more recently, television programs. This new field deserves special attention and constitutes the area of "psychomedia".

Bouhoutsos et al reported that the "Popeone Institute of Family Relations" carried out the first radio programs concerning the psychological aspects of "relation problems" in the early 50's. In the 60's a new program , "The private line" first appeared on television. These early forms of "Psychomedia" became popular in the 1970's, when their television versions were produced. This forced the official associations of both psychiatrists and psychologists to generate a Code of Ethics (1977), on the appearance of mental breathprofessionals in the media, which was received 4 years later.

In Greece, programs with psychiatric interest were first introduced along with private television. these shows beganas reality-based, talk shows dealing with problems within a coupleor a family etc. Later, they were presented in a more structured form, joined by mental health professionals, who dealt with particular problems, such as: divorce, depression, problems due to substance abuse etc.

Current literature presents the pros and cons of "Psychomedia" several articles. In 1983 and 1984, Frank et al and McCall et al respectively, noted that the appearance of psychiatrists on TV could possibly serve as a means of primary prevention through sensitisation of the community in the early recognition of mental health disorders. Zimmerman (1983) emphasizes how involvement in broadcast media roles, like television news, allows psychologists to guide the public to a better understanding of personal, community and cultural values and behaviour. Canter and Breakwell (1986) urge psychiatrists/psychologists to take the initiative and pioneer these opportunities to increase public awareness on the value of psychology. Later, Hyler et al (1991) and also Wilson et al (1999) underline the "obligation" of both psychiatrists and psychologists to utilize mass media in a way to fight the so-called "stigma" of mental disabilities and clean up the psychiatric patient's, heavily distorted, image. Recently, Rowe et al (2003) noted that while some psychiatric disorders were even remarkable "benefits" as it became clear that it is a disorder (and not a patient's trait) with not only social and psychological origins but with a strong and unquestionable biological basis. Also, Wessels et al (1999), Elkamel (1995) and Sogaard and Fonnebo (1996), underline the possible (psycho-) educational role of television.

While some believe that psychiatry's involvement in the media has done more good for the profession than any previous movement, others see this involvement as unethical and a disgrace to the profession, and many have written especially about the potential hazards of radio and television call-in programs. Raviv et al (1989) pointed out that there are no simple answers when dealing with people's problems, and the media psychiatrist/psychologist may not be able to obtain complete information, and thus give sufficient advice. Also, the psychiatrist/psychologist may find it difficult to avoid becoming involved in the sensationalism, exaggeration, or superficiality media are prone to. Recently, Johnston & Taylor (2001), Hyler, Gabbard & Schneider (1991) and Wilson, Nairn & Panapa (1999) highlight the negative role of media in the public image of the psychiatric patient, as they emphasise the violent side of their behaviour.

Conclusively, the "marriage" of psychiatry and media has, currently, several problems but is rather impossible to see a divorce in our times. the public voracious appetite for "psychomedia" indicates that this relationship is far from over, although it urgently needs a revision of the ethical codes and related medico-legal problems.

Key words: Psychiatry, psychology, mass media, psychomedia.