How is mental illness portrayed in our media?
There is no one correct way to answer this question. However, I do see a trend in the media of late. The media is blurring the distinction between mental illness and wellness. They are intentionally questioning our assumptions. This is a good thing, in my opinion. Let me give you a few examples.
First, many of the most popular shows on TV play with the idea of mental illness and wellness. Think of the hit show, Lost. Were most of the characters insane or sane? The series ended without resolving this question. But it did show their humanity. Similarly, think of the series, Heroes. Mental illness and genius was often in tension. Could mental illness also be the path to greater enlightenment spiritually and creatively?
Second, when we move to the big screen, we see the same blurring. Think of Batman. He is not your ordinary guy. His sanity can be called into question in many ways. Similarly, the blockbuster Xmen calls into question traditional categories of mental well being as well. The point is that the media seeks to challenge social categories and points to the fact that mental illness may be genius in disguise.
As with nearly everything in the media, for the most part it is dramatized. By this, I mean we see the extremes. We see the crazy person who's psychotic and kills a bunch of people. We don't see the more common scenario of people who cope with their mental illnesses and function quite well. This is not an attack on the media. We love to see the sensationalized (Jersey Shore, anyone?). And the more we watch something, the more advertisers will pay to have their commercial run during it and the more the media outlets make. It's to their advantage to show the extremes, and so they do. To prove this, all you need to do is watch the political news. How many moderates do you see calmly making their case for their platform? You don't. You see the extremists from both sides boldly claiming their side as the best and the other side as garbage. In other words, many things like mental illness, politics, etc. are portrayed as more polarizing by the media than they actually are because that is what sells.