The press & mental
illness: a study
by Mary O’Hara
the team
Mary O’Hara: Alistair Cooke Fulbright
Scholar
Professor Stephen Hinshaw: UC Berkeley
Research assistants:
Robert Villaneuva
Laura Gildengoran
Natalia Garcia
Robert Villaneuva
On the agenda
Mental illness & the media in context
Research objectives
Methodology
Key findings
Conclusions and next steps
Mental health in context
what we know
1 in 4 people will experience a mental illness at
some point in their lives
stigma affects millions of people
the media plays a key role
Why do this research?
Research objectives
research questions
What are the differences and similarities in the
coverage of mental illness in mainstream press in
the US and the UK?
Has coverage altered over time and if so, in what
ways?
Are there things to learn about trends from looking
at much older coverage?
research objectives
To evaluate coverage of mental illness in a range
of mainstream newspapers over a significant
timeframe in the US and the UK
To ascertain if the way coverage is ‘advertised’ - ie:
headlines - differs from from the content of articles
To chart trends in coverage over time within each
country
research objectives
To draw comparisons between the two countries
To establish if further research is warranted
“Specific newspapers, such as the New York Times and
Washington Post, have an even greater influence on the
national and international news agenda because they serve
as sources of news that many other outlets look to in
making their own programming and editorial decisions. So
while the overall audience for newspapers has declined over
recent years, newspapers still play a large and
consequential role in setting the overall news agenda that
cannot be strictly quantified or justified by circulation data
alone.”
The Pew Centre Project for Excellence in Journalism News Coverage Index
Methodology
the papers
The New York Times
The Washington Post
The Chicago Tribune
The LA Times
The Guardian
The Times
The Daily Mail
The Sun
The London Evening Standard
data capture
Lexus Nexus software
Online archives
All text was scanned for key mental health words
and terms
data analysis
Headlines - large sample
Full text - smaller, de-limited pilot of articles
sampling
1985-2009 time frame
Three single years selected with no less than 10
year intervals. Years: 1985, 1995 & 2009
Sampling of headlines and articles from the first
three months of each year
coding
3 research assistants coded all material
Thorough inter-coder training and testing
Coder agreement well above accepted levels of
reliability for textual analysis
housekeeping
variables
Number of words
Date of publication
Type of publication
Type of coverage
critical variables
Topics
Mental health conditions
Tone
main topics
18 main topics including suicide, murders or
violent crimes committed by a person with a mental
illness, the psychiatric profession, wellbeing,
stigma, treatment issues, therapies & causes of
mental illness
secondary-topics
30 secondary topics including: gender, race, age,
addiction, public policy, celebrity, the justice
system, first-person stories, funding, wider
healthcare provision, the pharmaceutical industry,
disability & mental health professionals
conditions
Severe mental disorders
Other common mental disorders
Other disorders
Generic references
Wrongly labelled
Unclear
Tone
tone: 4 point scale
positive
neutral
negative
sensationalist
Nutter
Psycho
Schizo
Slaughtered
Butchered
Massacred
Berserk
Rampage
Deranged
Crazed
messages
Risk of violence or association with violence
Recovery
Prevention
Risks & causes of mental illness
Commonness or rarity
Capability/competence
Treatment
Attitudes
Other
subsidiary research
Small randomised sample from 1900 & 1950
Titles with the most robust archive data
Coded as per the main sample
The findings
Tone
Tone: articles (US)
Overall
Tone: articles (US)
Change over time
Tone: articles (UK)
Overall
Tone: articles (UK)
Change over time
But....
Tone: articles
(Broadsheet only)
Messages
Risk of violence or association with violence
Recovery
Prevention
Risks & causes of mental illness
Commonness or rarity
Capability/competence
Treatment
Attitudes
Other
Tone: headlines (US)
237 messages from166 headlines
Tone: messages (US)
Overall
Tone: messages (US)
Change over time
Change over time
Tone: headlines (UK)
192 messages from 151 headlines
Tone: messages (UK)
Overall
Tone: messages (UK)
Change over time
But...
Tone: messages (UK)
Overall Broadsheet
Change over time
(UK) Broadsheet
Articles vs headlines
UK
There is no evidence that headlines are more
negative than articles but...
There are more sensationalist headlines than
sensationalist articles
US
Headlines are significantly more negative (58%)
than articles (35%)
There are marginally more sensationalist articles than
headlines but the number overall is extremely small
Tone: US vs UK
Some conclusions
Over time articles & headlines in the UK have
become more negative with the exception of
broadsheets which have done the opposite. In the
US headlines have become steadily more negative
while articles have become more neutral
There are very few overtly sensationalist headlines
or articles in either country in any year
The UK has higher proportions of positive articles
and headlines largely attributable to broadsheets
Messages
Risk of violence or association with violence
Recovery
Prevention
Risks & causes of mental illness
Commonness or rarity
Capability/competence
Treatment
Attitudes
Other
Most common message
UK
Risk of violence
15% of all messages
93% of these were either negative or sensationalist
US
Risk of violence
18% of all messages
86% of these were negative or sensationalist
Types of coverage
% Type of coverage UK
Types of coverage
by headline tone
US
UK
Types of coverage
some conclusions
US: ‘News’ accounts for 54% of overall coverage
but 60% of negative coverage
UK: ‘News’ accounts for 47% of overall coverage
but 57% of negative coverage
News is more negative than features in both
countries
Language
What’s in a word...
‘Crazed’
‘Maniac’
‘Madman’
‘Nuts’
‘Monster’
Language
Pejorative language was evident in all years
studied in both countries
UK newspapers - including broadsheets - were far
more likely to use pejorative language than their
US counterparts
Conditions
Conditions
Specific conditions were much less likely to be
mentioned in headlines than general references to,
for example, ‘mental illness’
This pattern was the same in both countries and
over all years
Conditions
Depression - including bi-polar disorder/manic
depression - is the most commonly mentioned
condition in newspapers in both countries
There is no evidence that coverage of depression
is more prevalent now than it was 25 years ago
Schizophrenia is the second most mentioned
condition but it is rarely referred to by headlines
Coverage of some conditions such as PTSD is a
recent phenomenon
Topics
Main Topics
UK (headlines)
1. Suicide
2. Mental health services
3. Lifestyle & wellbeing
4. Murder by a person with a mental illness
US (headlines)
1. Suicide
2. Mental health services
3. Lifestyle & wellbeing
7. Murder by a person with a mental illness
Main Topics
UK (articles)
1. Mental health services
2. Suicide
3. Lifestyle & wellbeing
8. Murder by a person with a mental illness
US (articles)
1. Mental health services
2. Suicide
3. Prevalence/causes
4. Murder by a person with a mental illness
Main topics: other
findings
Psychiatry, the psychiatric profession and
therapist/therapies featured much more in the US
than in UK coverage
Stories about overcoming adversity featured more
in the US coverage
Mentions of stigma or discrimination rarely
appeared in headlines or articles in either country
Secondary topics
UK (headlines)
1. Gender
2. First-person
3. Criminal justice
4. Inquest
5. Children/teens
US (headlines)
1. Inquest
2. Children/teens
3. MH profession
4. Gender
5. Armed forces
Secondary topics
UK (articles)
1. Gender
2. Public policy or legislation/wider healthcare
system/inquests/symptoms/celebrity or public
figure
US (articles)
1. Gender
2. Children or teens/inquest
3. MH profession
4. Public policy or legislation
Secondary topics:
other findings
Race/ethnicity was mentioned very rarely in either
US or UK coverage
Secondary topics:
other findings
UK articles and headlines were much more likely
to mention celebrities and public figures and the
number of mentions jumped significantly in 2009
The pharmaceutical industry barely registers in
either country in headlines or articles
Suicide: a special case?
Suicide: an overview
Volume of coverage extremely high
Levels of coverage almost identical in both
countries
Broadsheets and tabloids equally interested
Cross-references
Cross-references
Only 7 out of 166 articles in US publications
included an explicit helpline or other mechanism for
seeking help
Only 8 out of 151 articles in UK publications
provided a cross-ref and all of these were in 2009
older sample
A different world?
1900 Articles
1950 Articles
A different world?
1900 Headlines
1950 Headlines
What the papers said
What the papers said
What the papers said
What the papers said
Conclusions
In conclusion
More research on trends in coverage is warranted
Further investigation of editorial decision-making
processes and the cultural influences informing
them would be valuable
Thank You.
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The press & mental illness: a study