Pass the Popcorn, Let's Watch ER: A Study on the Portrayal of Mental Disorders on the Primetime Medical Drama
The medical drama, ER, is one of the most popular television shows of the last fifty years. Lauded for its entertainment and education value, the show often presented dramatic medical cases and discussed relevant health topics. Objective: The objective of the study was to examine the inclusion and portrayal of mental disorders on this popular show. Methods: Data was attained through the coding of ninety-one independent episodes across four seasons. Results: Of the ninety-one episodes, twenty-four (26.4%) featured at least one character with a mental disorder. Seasons one and six had significantly more cases of mental disorder than seasons eleven and fifteen. The most prevalent disorder on the show was substance-related disorder, while the least prevalent were anxiety disorder, mood disorder and factitious disorder. Characters were portrayed to some extent as violent and incompetent; the mental health physician was portrayed as judgmental and dismissive. Conclusion: Presentations of mental disorder on the show were both consistent and inconsistent with real-life data and public perceptions. For the most part, the show seemed to impede social progress in the way people viewed mental health.