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 Table of Contents  
BRIEF COMMUNICATION
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 36  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 258-261

Portrayal of mental health in the newspapers from Chennai: A cross-sectional survey


Schizophrenia Research Foundation, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Submission11-Jul-2019
Date of Decision23-Sep-2019
Date of Acceptance10-Jan-2020
Date of Web Publication28-Sep-2020

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Vijaya Raghavan
Schizophrenia Research Foundation, R/7A, North Main Road, Anna Nagar West Extension, Chennai - 600 101, Tamil Nadu
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/ijsp.ijsp_69_19

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  Abstract 


Background: Newspapers are the most widely used mode for daily news and information. However, studies have shown that mental health continues to be portrayed in a negative light in the newspapers, and various factors could lead to this poor reporting of mental health. Thus, the aim of this study was to understand how mental health news and information are portrayed in the leading print newspapers of Chennai. Materials and Methods: Four top newspapers, three in English and one in the vernacular language (Tamil), were selected. The articles related to mental health were identified, collected, synthesized, and analyzed for the content and communication methods. Appropriate qualitative and quantitative statistical analysis was used. Results: Most of the articles were on positive mental health, followed by addiction. Less number of articles were on depression. The vernacular papers were found to be using a more dramatic linguistic approach while writing their news reports. The suicide helpline number was not present in most articles in both the English and vernacular newspapers. The media professionals were focusing more on the promotion/prevention approach of mental health with little emphasis on mental illness. Conclusion: As the current trend is toward a more preventative approach, an increasing number of articles on positive psychology are published in the newspapers. Prescribed guidelines for reporting suicide were also not followed, predominantly in the vernacular papers. This highlights the need for dissemination and training on existing guidelines for better reporting of mental health among journalists.

Keywords: Media, mental health, newspapers


How to cite this article:
Chandan AK, Sridhar U, Jain SG, Ramalakshmi C S, Gopal S, Raghavan V. Portrayal of mental health in the newspapers from Chennai: A cross-sectional survey. Indian J Soc Psychiatry 2020;36:258-61

How to cite this URL:
Chandan AK, Sridhar U, Jain SG, Ramalakshmi C S, Gopal S, Raghavan V. Portrayal of mental health in the newspapers from Chennai: A cross-sectional survey. Indian J Soc Psychiatry [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Jan 26];36:258-61. Available from: https://www.indjsp.org/text.asp?2020/36/3/258/296263




  Introduction Top


The ability to gain access, understand, and use information in ways that promote and maintain good health has come to be known as health literacy. It is evident that media, in every form, both print and electronic, has become a primary source of knowledge for the general population. Media has a special place in communicating facts about physical and mental health to the people. While the information on the physical health has always gained priority in the media, mental health, on the contrary, has always been either neglected or not portrayed to its full capacity.[1]

Conventionally, newspapers are the widely used source of information. Recently, the line between the print and online newspapers is slowly disappearing. Among the mass media, print media continues to be the most frequently used source of information and could influence public's perception on the mental health and stigmatizing reports have a negative impact not only on people with mental illness but also on social policies.[2] A number of studies worldwide have shown that mental health is portrayed in a negative and conventionalized manner in the newspapers, including themes such as risk of dangerousness and threat to others.[3],[4],[5]

In India, mental health information through media highlights many myths and stereotypes as it reflects the general trend in the population without giving due consideration for the recent advances in the field of mental health.[6] A number of reasons could contribute for such a disturbing portrayal of mental health.[7] At the same time, when awareness on mental health was provided to the journalists, it led to positive reporting about schizophrenia and mental health in general.[8] This takes importance in the context that nearly 20% of the general population is affected by any one mental disorder in their lifetime,[9] and India is one among the top countries with high newspaper sales.[10]

Despite these, very few studies have explored the portrayal of mental health and disorders in Indian print media. This knowledge will help understand the current practices, examine the lacunas, and develop and implement interventions to improve better communication on mental health through the newspapers in India. Hence, the aim of the study was to understand the various mental health themes covered and how mental health was being portrayed in the major print newspapers of Chennai in the languages of Tamil and English.


  Materials and Methods Top


This study was conducted at a tertiary psychiatric clinical care setting in Chennai. Data were collected as per a cross-sectional study design. The Institutional Ethical Committee approval was obtained before the start of the study.

Selection and retrieval of news items and articles on mental health from the newspapers

A thorough search was made, both online and manual, to identify the leading newspapers in Chennai in terms of readership, both in English and the vernacular language of Chennai, Tamil Nadu. These leading newspapers were listed from the highest readership, separately for English and Tamil, and three English newspapers and one Tamil newspaper were included for this study. From these, mental health-related articles published in them were collected for a period of 3 months from June 1, 2017, to August 30, 2017.

For the purpose of this study, mental health-related articles or news items were defined as the one where any of the mental health aspects or issues pertaining to mental illness such as promotion/awareness of mental health, mental health illness, suicide, crime by persons with mental disorders, and policies pertaining to mental health were included as a part of the study.

The selected newspapers for the described period of time, including the main and supplementary section, were collected. Three researchers (AC, US, and CSR), who were well versed in English and Tamil, scanned all the news items and articles. The identified mental health-related articles which had terms such as mental illness, suicide, schizophrenia, depression, and mindfulness were selected. The list of selected articles was checked by two senior researchers (GS and VR) for appropriateness for the purpose of the study, and a final list of articles for further analysis was prepared.

Analysis of the news items/articles related to mental health

The included articles were analyzed for their type and content and the emerging information were segregated under the following heads: (1) themes of the news item such as suicide, crime by persons with mental health issues, mental health-related programs/activities or articles on mental health promotion, and mental health disorders; (2) adherence with the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines with respect to news items or articles on suicide;[11] and (3) use of appropriate vocabulary/language usage.

Semistructured pro forma was developed based on the pilot analysis, and further information on the same was captured systematically. A discrete analysis was performed using the SPSS software version 16 (SPSS Inc., Chicago, IL, USA) to understand the percentage of articles reported on suicide.


  Results Top


A total of 216 metal health-related articles were identified and analyzed in the study period from the top four (3 English and 1 Tamil) newspapers [Table 1]. The articles were separated on the bases of the type of articles. The major themes that emerged were on positive psychology (22%), addiction (20%), and depression (13%) [Figure 1].
Table 1: Number of mental health-related articles in top four (3 English and 1 Tamil) newspapers from Chennai between June 1, 2017 and August 30, 2017 (n=216)

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Figure 1: Number and relative percentage of mental health articles related to suicide published in the newspapers from Chennai between June 1, 2017 and August 30, 2017

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Further qualitative analysis of the articles on the form of language used and the adherence to suicide guidelines revealed that several articles on suicide did not adhere to the guidelines of reporting suicide.


  Discussion Top


The results indicate that news items or articles on positive mental health or advice were more when compared with that of topics related to mental illness. The total number of articles on mental health (both on positive mental health and mental illness) in the English newspapers was more than that published in the Tamil newspapers. Various reasons could be attributed such as the nonavailability of experts to write on the mental health disorders and more readers interested in reading the articles on the promotion of mental health rather than mental illness. Other factors such as availability of space and appropriate sections to publish articles on mental health within the newspapers could also contribute for these differences. Studies from countries such as the UK have shown that the trend is more in reporting of physical health and general health when compared to the mental health.[12] However, in a study by Pieters et al., Dutch print media is balanced for reporting physical and mental health related articles.[13]

While the articles on serious mental disorders such as schizophrenia and dementia were covered more in the English newspapers, addiction disorders and depression were commonly published in both English and Tamil newspapers. However, the number of articles reported on suicide is higher in the Tamil newspapers, written in more graphic details, lack of anonymity and do not carry the suicide prevention helplines, which are mandatory during the publication of articles on suicide, according to the prevailing guidelines from India.[11],[14] Similar to our results, in a study assessing the reporting quality of suicide-related articles from the nine major newspapers of Tamil Nadu concluded that despite the reporting of suicide being common, the quality of the articles were found to be low when assessed on the WHO reporting guidelines, and therefore, not only increasing the risk of suicide but also not using this as an opportunity to further educate and bring awareness among the general population.[15] Various studies such as the UK, South Africa, and China show similar results.[16],[17],[18] According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations of India, there are 301 million newspaper readers against over 895 million illiterate people.[10] An increase in the literacy levels in the country could have led to an increase in the demand for newspapers. These numbers suggest that an increasing population have access to what has become a primary source of information to all, but there is a lack of research on how mental health is projected, and so the need to know how mental health is being brought to light to these millions of people. In a recent review by Bohanna and Wang (2012), it was evident that the use of guidelines would definitely improve media reporting; however, the awareness and use of it is low among media professionals.[19]

The major limitations of this study are as follows: (1) only the top four newspapers from Chennai were analyzed, leading to the difficulty in understanding the overall trend of publication toward mental health; (2) online newspapers and news applications were not included, they might have news items and articles on mental health as space is not a restricting factor with the online portals, leading to loss on covering more data for better understanding and generalizability; and (3) as the newspapers were included only from Chennai in Tamil Nadu, these results will not be generalizable to other states of South India or India at large.

The gaps in better reporting can be reduced by: 1. educating the journalists on mental health; 2. implementing guidelines by WHO and mindframe for responsible reporting.[11],[13] Improving the communication between media and mental health professionals could also help the journalists get a better understanding of mental health and thus improve the authenticity of the articles being published.


  Conclusion Top


It is evident that a large population read newspapers in India. However, overall reporting of mental health and suicide needs to improve. This can be achieved by educating journalists about mental health and implementing existing guidelines on reporting of suicide and mental health.

Acknowledgment

The author, Raghavan, was supported by India-US Fogarty Training in Chronic Non-Communicable Disorders and Diseases across Lifespan Grant # 1D43TW009120 (Raghavan, Fellow; LB Cottler, PI).

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Lawrie SM. Newspaper coverage of psychiatric and physical illness. Psychiatr Bull 2000;24:104-6.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Olstead R. Contesting the text: Canadian media depictions of the conflation of mental illness and criminality. Sociol Health Illn 2002;24:621-43.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
Shrivastava S, Kalra G, Ajinkya S. People see what papers show! Psychiatry's stint with print media: A pilot study from Mumbai, India. Indian J Psychiatry 2015;57:407-11.  Back to cited text no. 3
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
4.
McCrae N, Sharif L, Norman I. Media portrayals of mental disorder in Saudi Arabia: A review of popular newspapers. Transcult Psychiatry 2019;56:428-42.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Subramanian R. Frames of mental illness in an Indian daily newspaper. Health Commun 2019;34:1806-15.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
6.
Gwarjanski AR, Parrott S. Schizophrenia in the news: The role of news frames in shaping online reader dialogue about mental illness. Health Commun 2018;33:954-61.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
7.
Brown P. Nothing but the truth. Are the media as bad at communicating science as scientists fear? EMBO Rep 2012;13:964-7.  Back to cited text no. 7
    
8.
Stuart H. Stigma and the daily news: Evaluation of a newspaper intervention. Can J Psychiatry 2003;48:651-6.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
9.
India Today. India is the most Depressed Country in the World. Delhi: India Today; 2019. Available from: https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/india-is-the-most-depressed-country-in-the-world-mental-health-day-2018-1360096-2018-10-10. [Last accessed on 2019 Jun 27].  Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.
Available from: http://www.auditbureau.org/news/view/53. [Last accessed on 2019 Jun 27].  Back to cited text no. 10
    
11.
World Health Organization. Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals, Geneva: World Health Organization; 2017.  Back to cited text no. 11
    
12.
Chen M, Lawrie S. Newspaper depictions of mental and physical health. BJPsych Bull 2017;41:308-13.  Back to cited text no. 12
    
13.
Pieters G, Gucht VD, Kajosch H. Newspaper Coverage of Psychiatry and General Medicine: Comparing Tabloids with Broadsheets; 2003.  Back to cited text no. 13
    
14.
Available from: https://www.sane.org/images/stories/media/smc_factsheets/0912_media_m7 mindframe.pdf. [Last accessed on 2019 Jun 26].  Back to cited text no. 14
    
15.
Armstrong G, Vijayakumar L, Niederkrotenthaler T, Jayaseelan M, Kannan R, Pirkis J, et al. Assessing the quality of media reporting of suicide news in India against World Health Organization guidelines: A content analysis study of nine major newspapers in Tamil Nadu. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2018;52:856-63.  Back to cited text no. 15
    
16.
Dzokoto V, Barnett C, Osei-Tutu A, Briggs A. Mental health reportage in Ghanaian newspapers between 2000 and 2015: A qualitative analysis. Int J Ment Health 2018;47:192-214.  Back to cited text no. 16
    
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Pitman A, Stevenson F. Suicide reporting within British newspapers' arts coverage. Crisis 2015;36:13-20.  Back to cited text no. 17
    
18.
Chu X, Zhang X, Cheng P, Schwebel DC, Hu G. Assessing the use of media reporting recommendations by the World Health Organization in suicide news published in the most influential media sources in China, 2003-2015. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2018;15. pii: E451.  Back to cited text no. 18
    
19.
Bohanna I, Wang X. Media guidelines for the responsible reporting of suicide: A review of effectiveness. Crisis 2012;33:190-8.  Back to cited text no. 19
    


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