Mental health and illness in the public mirror

Magdalena Rosset, Miriam Jaspersen, Anja Dittrich, Eva Baumann and Paul Bomke share their research findings on how mental health and illness is reflected in journalism

Mental health is becoming incrementally more discussed as a topic, but the media is becoming infinitely more powerful as technology evolves the reach of journalistic ideas.
In Germany, 18 million people are currently expected to be suffering mental health problems. This research by the team at Hanover Center for Health Communication interrogates the way that journalists discuss mental health in three key daily print newspapers.

Whilst mental health is synonymous in mainstream awareness with depression, schizophrenia and school shootings, the concept of enhancing health remains largely untouched. Sensational stories about celebrity suicide dominate the news cycle above stories on how to enact preventative care and thrive.

The team at Hanover tore apart 456 articles, interviewed 16 health professionals and extracted the opinions of 44 members of the public in a series of 60 minute interviews.

What did they find out about mental health and illness?

453 out of 456 articles spoke about mental health disorders – not about mental health as a concept. The overwhelming negativity of this coverage alters the reality of how individuals perceive mental health – to be associated with “burnout, crime, and celebrity suicide”.

One of the recurring ideas given by their interviewees from the public was that there needs to be examples of “success”, where people have addressed their mental health issues and thrived, the same as any other bodily illness.

Could the media be a “powerful driving force of social change” as the research team recommend? Is this a distant or imminent goal?

Their full findings and theoretical groundwork are an essential read for anyone navigating the news cycles of the 21st century, attempting to remain emotionally grounded or working in the health sector. Learn more here.

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