Do media representations perpetuate myths of madness? : the social construction of people with mental illnesses in the New Zealand newsprint media.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
Reports of incidents and issues relating to people with mental illnesses (PWMI) feature prominently in the Western news media. Over the years, the nature and extent of this coverage has incited considerable interest among ·academic researchers and members of the mental health sector, who argue that the news media play a central role in informing and framing popular conceptions of PWMI. Stereotyped and sensationalised news representations, particularly those framed within the context of violence and danger, are considered to amplify and legitimise the largely negative lay image of PWMI. The role of the media in the circulation of common-sense understandings of PWMI is the focus of the present research. Using Social Representations The01y as its analytic framework, the research reported herein considers the social representations of PWMI that were enlisted in news media coverage of a mass killing perpetrated in New Zealand by an individual suffering a psychiatric illness. Methods of content and discursive analysis were used to systematically analyse 123 news articles related to the tragedy published in four major New Zealand metropolitan daily newspapers. In exploring the representations contained in the sample frame, specific attention was given to those individuals whom journalists cast as principal news sources, the thematic content manifest in coverage, and the dominant discourses constructed in the dramatic narrative of the story. Discourses associated with the dangerousness, otherness, medicalisation, accountability, and functionality of PWMI were found alongside an overarching social representation of social crisis. The implications of these findings for future efforts to reduce mental illness stigma of PWMI are discussed.