Mental health and the news media in Aotearoa New Zealand: Key informant perspectives

Natasha Oliver, Liz Beddoe, Carole Adamson

Abstract


INTRODUCTION: Without personal experience or specific background knowledge of an issue, individuals exposed to news media are limited in their ability to gauge the accuracy of media content. The perception of people with mental illness as dangerous or incompetent allows for discrimination to occur, often resulting from inaccurate portrayals in the media.

METHOD: A small, qualitative study was undertaken to explore key informant perspectives on the representation of mental health issues in the current Aotearoa New Zealand media context. Eight semi-structured interviews were carried out with key informants; each participant provided at least one of the following perspectives: mental health professional, mental health advocate, mental health consumer and/or media personnel.

FINDINGS: The participants in this research found that news media strongly influence how the public views mental health, but believe media representation has improved in recent years. However, participants described an absence of stories illustrating successful interventions and felt that the portrayal of mental illnesses are still misrepresented and stigmatised by the media. Mental health services and mental health professionals were seen as poorly represented by the news media, which was thought to deter help-seeking and hinder trust.

CONCLUSION: Public attitudes towards mental health have a significant impact on the lives of those experiencing mental distress. The news media have the ability to change public perceptions; however, this influence can be either harmful or helpful. Mental health stories need to be consistently contextualised and use inclusive language in order to a make a positive large- scale change in public attitudes.


Keywords


Mental health; mental illness; news media; service-user perspective

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol32iss4id802

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