The news media are one of the most important public sources of information on psychiatric disorders. However, research on news media content has established that journalistic coverage of mental illness is largely characterized by inaccuracies, exaggerations, and misinformation. Studies consistently show that both entertainment and news media provide overwhelmingly dramatic and distorted images of mental illness that emphasize dangerousness, criminality and unpredictability. According to previous research, newspapers might even contribute to mental illness stigma through negative news content. For example, insufficient stories on recovery may promote the belief that mental illness cannot be treated effectively. Also, news media can contribute to the maintaining of mental illness stigma by negative portrayals of individuals with these illnesses, making them vulnerable to social rejection and discrimination. Research on journalistic coverage of mental illness has also problematized the tendency to use incorrect or inappropriate language, thus devaluing the degree of scientific accuracy (for example, the incorrect or careless use of psychiatric terms). There is also a significant tendency to overestimate the explanatory value of genetics regarding the causes of mental illnesses and methods of treatment. There is a need for more research on how news about mental illness is produced, for example, what resources reporters use in covering stories and how reporters select, frame, and develop stories. Further, little information exists on how journalists overcome barriers to quality health reporting, for example, lack of time, lack of space, and commercialism. This paper analyzes journalistic views and perspectives regarding mental illness and the news media coverage of issues regarding mental illness. In particular, challenges in reporting scientific issues such as causes of mental disorders and their treatments will be focused. This study is based on qualitative semi-structured interviews with 8 journalists from Swedish metropolitan newspapers. The interview protocol served the function of “wide” questions for the purposes of allowing respondents to generate their own key terms. The journalists were chosen based on a newspaper article database search (focusing mental health issues), and the most frequent journalists in the article sample were contacted by email. The interviews were conducted by phone between February and March 2016 and were audio recorded. The journalists interviewed were initially asked to reflect upon different issues regarding mental illness; possible causes, different diagnosis, chances of recovery etc. Thereafter the interview focused the journalists view on media coverage of mental illness with special focus on news media, eg perspectives/bias in the journalistic representations, absent theories/approaches, choice of sources, strategies for research, journalistic work routines and procedures, most difficult challenges and journalistic responsibilities. Finally, they were asked to reflect upon possible changes in public attitudes and opinions regarding mental illness over the last few decades and the potential role of the news media in such a development.
Prague: Czech-In , 2016. 573-573 p.
ECREA’s 6th European Communication Conference, ‘Mediated (Dis)Continuities: Contesting Pasts, Presents and Futures’, Prague, Czech Republic, 9-12 November, 2016