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Thirty-Third Annual Meeting of the Society for Research in Psychopathology

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139. News media portrayal of severe mental illness: A content analysis

Prior research has found that representation of mental illness in media has the potential to promote or prevent stigma and discrimination against those with mental disorders. In 2016, 57% of Americans obtained information about current events from tv news broadcasts, versus only 20% from print media. Given the prevalence of broadcast news in Americans’ lives, the current project assesses the ways in which mental illness terms, such as “psychosis” and “mania,” are used on major television news programs. We used 1250 transcripts from the past three years for three major networks - CNN, Fox and MSNBC – and coded each for frequency of use of mental illness terms; proper, colloquial, and pejorative use of those terms; topic of the news story; and the corresponding major event of that day. Preliminary results show that 55% of the time mental illness terms were used, it was in a pejorative way. Furthermore, 87.9% of these instances of pejorative use occurred during segments about politics. This hints at the possibility of uncovering more patterns in the way clinical language is used in a derogatory or colloquial manner and elucidates ways in which major news networks shape the way mental illness is discussed in daily life.

Kasia Severaid
Northwestern University

Claire Yee
Northwestern University

Teresa Vargas
Northwestern University

Jason Schiffman
University of Maryland Baltimore County

Vijay Mittal
Northwestern University


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