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Press Coverage of Norwegian Killings Demonises Mental Health Support Needs

As the world tries to understand how a tragedy like Norway could happen, speculation on the mental state of Anders Behring Breivik abounds in the international press. This casual yet pervasive linkage between deviance and a concept of “madness” perpetuates and encourages stigma and prejudice surrounding mental health. Such speculation is largely misinformed in its understanding of mental health experience, and unfairly fuels ignorance and exclusion.

Press stories about the perpetrator of the Norway massacre frequently refer to Breivik’s “madness” as if relating a proven fact, using descriptions such as “deranged” or “psychopath”. Such coverage stems partly in reaction to the question of whether Breivik will plead insanity to avoid conviction. It also stems from continuation of a popular media theme which associates violence which mental illness and encourages public fear of people with mental health support needs. Mental Health Europe, commenting on the media coverage of the Norwegian killings remarks that “prejudice is only reinforced by equating mental health problems with gruesome acts of violence”.

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