Reading ‘The Sun’ is bad for mental health: Why negative or shocking headlines are a hindrance to helping people.

Ok so this Blog title was a bit sensationalist, but it was meant in an ironic way.

I’ve just been to a seminar by former Guardian journalist Mary O’Hara, who has teamed up with researchers from the University of California, Berkeley to investigate how mental health is reported in the UK and US press now and in the past. Some of the results are no surprise, but some were quite shocking and show we have a long way to go before issues of mental health lose their stigma in society.

More specifically in relation to my rather ‘sensationalist’ title, it seems that in the UK there is a big difference between that which is reported in the tabloids and that in the broadsheets (no surprises there). Broadsheets were more likely to report about mental health in a positive tone than in a negative one, and positive or neutral reporting was more common overall in broadsheets with no ‘sensationalist’ messages; in comparison the tabloids reported much more negative and sensationalist tones within articles. The same trend goes for the headlines, where a more positive/neutral tone was found in broadsheets compared to tabloids.

Tabloid Headline: PSYCHO CABBIES RAMPAGE ON CCTV; negative and sensationalist language in the Media is doing nothing to remove the stigma from mental health conditions

This is a big worry for mental health awareness campaigners hoping to reduce the negative stigma associated with mental health (such as the mental health charity Mind) , due to the many more people reading Tabloids than Broadsheets. There are guidelines in place for the UK media with an aim to prevent such information being presented in an incorrect light, however as Mary highlighted in her presentation today it is by no means compulsory in the news room to attend meetings regarding such issues, and often they are overlooked during the editing process. As we are now in an age where more instant publishing on blogs, websites and even Twitter are possible, is there a worry that there will be even less adherence to such guidelines. The presence of stigma still in the media will only prevent people from seeking help when it is needed if mental health issues are presented in a negative light.

Even more worrying was the statistic that only 8 of the 151 articles regarding mental health (published in 1985, 1995 and 2009) were analysed by the study provided contact details to helpful organisations such as the Samaritans, and these were all in 2009. This could further dissuade people from seeking help when they are in distress. In relation to my previous blog (‘What is ‘Normal’) the stigma attached to mental health issues is going to continue to make people feel that they are ‘abnormal’ in the eyes of the general public.

My review of the research and presentation is merely scratching the surface, so I urge people to read her articles and watch the presentation yourself by using the links below. The research is due to be published later this year so keep a look out!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/sustainability/blog/editorial-mental-health-reporting

http://vodpod.com/watch/5631013-press-coverage-of-mental-health-and-suicide-mary-ohara-gresham-college-lecture

http://www.gresham.ac.uk/lectures-and-events/press-coverage-of-mental-health-and-suicide

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One thought on “Reading ‘The Sun’ is bad for mental health: Why negative or shocking headlines are a hindrance to helping people.

  1. Pingback: ‘Insert sesnationalist and stigmatising title here’ – Mental health stigma in the current media « Psychbubble Blog

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