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‘Lazy’ media stigmatize mentally ill: researchers

12:58 am - 03/30/2012
Media coverage of mental illness in Canada is overwhelmingly negative, according to an analysis of news articles and television transcripts commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

“We see a lot of lazy journalism,” said Rob Whitley, a researcher at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute in Montreal, who found the shorter a news article is, the more likely it is to be negatively stigmatizing.

“Danger, violence and criminality were direct themes in 39% of newspaper articles, and in only 17% was recovery of rehabilitation a significant theme. Shortage of resources and poor quality of care was discussed in only 28% of newspaper articles, even though these are perennial problems.”

Television news was typically more “progressive and positive” than print, with fewer than 5% of news items being “directly stigmatizing.”



They were read by researchers, who categorized them according to such indicators as whether they were optimistic, stigmatizing, or focused on criminality or the currently poor state of mental health care.

Mr. Whitley said 12% took an optimistic or positive tone about mental health, while 29% were “directly stigmatizing.” Fully 84% did not quote a person with mental illness, and 74% did not quote an expert.

He also found some news outlets are typically progressive, and cited recent examples of advocacy journalism that sought to promote the MHCC’s goal of bringing mental illness “out of the shadows.” But others “preferred to use mental illness as an opportunity to sensationalize,” giving the example of a report on a schizophrenic who confessed to eating a human heart.

“Many journalists treated mental illness in this way: writing a sensationalist and titillating account of an event or person that links mental illness to unpredictable, shocking or outlandish behaviour, none of which are actually common symptoms of any mental illness,” he said.

Schizophrenia, the only specific search term used in the study, is a relatively rare mental illness, and among the most serious and least understood. Its onset, usually in teenagers or young adults, is characterized by grandiose and outlandish beliefs, disorganized speech and thought, and sometimes auditory or visual hallucinations.

“If the media consistently associate people with a mental illness with danger, the general public may treat them as dangerous,” Mr. Whitley said.

“Contrariwise, if the media consistently state that people with a mental illness can recover, public reaction may well be more generous.”

source @ The National Post
icanseenow 30th-Mar-2012 01:33 pm (UTC)
schizophrenia is really scary, my former best friend's father has it and my former best friend probably has it (in short: after years and years of really close friendship she started sexually harassing me...). But in the media? You'd think it always means having two distinct personalities.

Also, having mental illnesses myself I can definitely say I'm not surprised the media is as stigmatized as it is. :(
chicklet22 31st-Mar-2012 08:13 am (UTC)
Actually people with Schizophrenia do NOT have two personalities. The name means "split from reality".
icanseenow 31st-Mar-2012 08:59 am (UTC)
That was my point, but most people I know think it's the same and it's often presented this way in the media.
chicklet22 31st-Mar-2012 09:22 am (UTC)
Sorry misunderstood you :)
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