Mediating Mental Distress in Young People: The Role of Popular UK Media in Challenging Stigma

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 11:50 AM
Room: 422
Distributed Paper
Lesley HENDERSON , Brunel University, London, United Kingdom
Most mental-health needs in young people are unmet, even in high income countries and ‘stigma associated with mental disorder is a key challenge’ (Patel et al, 2007).  Media representations are considered to play a key role in fuelling stigma though this is not a new problem. Mental illness and prejudice has a trajectory which predates modern media and is deeply ingrained culturally (Signorielli, 1993). This paper draws on semi structured interviews with programme makers and source organisations as well as thematic content analysis to explore messages concerning young people in mental distress. What role might popular media play in helping to challenge or perpetuate stigma? Are there unique opportunities created by popular television that challenge prevailing representations of young people in distress? How do source organisations work with programme makers to create positive collaborations? What are the associated opportunities and pitfalls? Is there evidence that such representations can change attitudes and beliefs?

This paper builds on studies that have identified connections between media coverage and public beliefs about mental health (Philo 1993). The negative coverage of mental health is considered to bear significant responsibility for fuelling public prejudice and misconceptions (Wahl, 2003). Acute conditions such as schizophrenia are associated with particular stigma and the media stereotyping of those affected by such diagnoses is considered to have significant repercussions for their social network. Charities and other organisations have explicitly targeted popular prime time drama in a range of successful health campaigns and there is evidence that young people are receptive to ‘public’ issue messages within popular media formats (see Henderson, 2007). This paper examines the role of primetime UK entertainment in shaping public understandings of risk and suggests that populist depictions of young people in mental distress can challenge prevailing perceptions of those affected and represent their experience in unique ways.