Research Findings ,

How do the media see mental health?

Print media sources in three central European countries, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Croatia, primarily portray mental health illnesses in a negative light, according to a study in the latest issue of the Journal of Health Communication. Investigators conducted the study with print media because those are the main sources of information in the three countries, and they examined articles from the six most widely read newspapers and six most widely read one-week periodicals in each of the three countries during 2007. Examiners looked at substance abuse (alcoholism, drug use, etc.) and “psychotic” (schizophrenia, depression, etc.)┬ádisorders.

The study also found the media portrayed people with mental health illnesses as being associated with aggressive behavior. This happened in 49.3% of the articles in Croatia, 40.1% of the articles in Slovakia and 26.4% of the articles in the Czech Republic. Interestingly, longer articles that talked about mental health were found to be more positive, and the study writers discussed this as likely a space-related issue (i.e. an article in a periodical would have more room and could say “a person with schizophrenia” whereas an article in a newspaper might be tighter on space and use the term “schizophrenic”). It’s also notable that mental health professionals’ opinions were only included in 1/3 of all the articles and people with a mental illness only quoted in 10% of all the articles. Less surprising is that mental health professionals were a “source of information” in 61.6% of the articles that depicted mental health more positively, while only 16.3% of the articles that portrayed mental health negatively used a mental health professional as a source. The study wants to use its findings to educate future journalists in the countries on how to talk about and report on mental health issues.

I think this study has interesting implications for what the media currently do with mental health and how they portray these illnesses, not only in the three countries mentioned, but everywhere. I also think an important finding is that only 10% of all the articles actually quoted someone going through the illnesses they reported on. If we’re going to discuss a specific illness, doesn’t it make sense to speak with someone dealing with it?

What do you think about this study? And how have you seen mental health depicted in media outlets in the U.S. and other countries?

Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons