From the “Magna Carta” to “Dying in the Streets”: Media Framings of Mental Health Law in California

Alex V. Barnard

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This article analyzes 575 newspaper articles across 53 years of reporting on California’s landmark 1967 Lanterman-Petris-Short (LPS) Act to examine framings of the challenges people with severe mental illness pose to the social order and shifting responses to them. The LPS Act restricted involuntary hospitalization which in the 1960s made it a “Magna Carta” that heralded a “mental health revolution” of voluntary, community-based care. Subsequently, coverage passed between four other framings that linked together different attributions of problems—like homelessness or suicide—with perceived flaws of the Act—such as encouraging the closure of hospitals or imposing barriers to forced treatment. Although previous research has focused on how the media amplifies fears of violence, this article shows how this framing is giving way to one focused on mentally ill people “dying in the streets” and the need for re-institutionalization to save them. By comparing media representations with other documentation from each period, this article demonstrates how these frames have continuously misattributed the consequences of complex policy and social changes to the granting of civil rights by the LPS Act.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)155-173
    Number of pages19
    JournalSociety and Mental Health
    Issue number2
    StatePublished - Jul 2022


    • California
    • Lanterman-Petris-Short Act
    • civil commitment
    • de-institutionalization
    • media
    • mental illness
    • stigma

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
    • Psychiatry and Mental health


    Dive into the research topics of 'From the “Magna Carta” to “Dying in the Streets”: Media Framings of Mental Health Law in California'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this