- 03 Apr 23
As schizophrenia and related disorders are often given little attention in the media, about 65% of people with psychosis can achieve full recovery or symptom resolution to the point of leading independent lives.
According to new research from the University of Galway's PSYcHE project, the stigmatisation of psychoses and schizophrenia is not being actively addressed in online news reporting.
The research was conducted by psychology professor Gary Donohoe and Headline, the national programme for responsible reporting on mental illness. Over 656 articles from 2021, relating to schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and psychoses have been analysed.
The results show that while an overwhelming majority of articles avoid reinforcing the stigma, only a few articles do something about the public's negative perception.
For example, only 12 percent of articles included information that countered stereotypes, while only 5 percent included a reference to relevant support services, and less than 3 percent included contributions from someone with lived experience.
Donohoe says that simply "avoiding pejorative language" and "providing correct information" is not enough to change negative attitudes towards people living with schizophrenia and other psychosis.
"What [we] really need is to combat stigma myths by including a contribution from somebody with lived experience. Then you get to know the person, and once you get to know the person, your attitude towards the illness or the disorder changes. It humanises [their] experience."
Using material from Headline’s media monitoring, a @PSYcHENUIG study has found that print and online media avoid actively challenging stigma around schizophrenia.
You can read the full research paper here: https://t.co/NfqjFWXOuh #MentalHealthJournalism #SchizophreniaStigma pic.twitter.com/1BkdNXCy8G
— Headline - Supporting Media, Changing Attitudes (@HeadlineIreland) April 3, 2023
To get some experiential expertise and help score the articles based on stigma-measuring criteria developed by Headline, Conor Gavin, a person living with schizoaffective disorder, played an integral role in the study.
One aspect Gavin feels is missing from the media coverage of schizophrenia and related disorders are "stories about people like me who are just living normally."
"A lot of people with diagnoses like this can live perfectly normal, healthy productive lives, and meaningful lives. I work on the  project [as a peer supporter]. That’s a good example for people who are a bit younger than me. It is possible to come out of it and to recover and do well."
"When I came out of my first episode when I was 15 or 16," Gavin says, “the psychiatrist said to me, 'You’ve had experience of psychosis, but this doesn’t mean you’re a psychopath.' It was important for him to make that distinction because of what I might have read up until that point in the media."
Helping media students understand the nuances of covering mental ill health leads to more responsible reporting in the future. If you're an educator in media and want your students to access our free workshops, find out how here: https://t.co/k8V7cxruoC #MentalHealthMedia pic.twitter.com/n2M27RNLss
— Headline - Supporting Media, Changing Attitudes (@HeadlineIreland) March 31, 2023
Most of the articles were reported in the context of a court case or a violent crime. Even though journalists have an obligation to report on these cases, Headline‘s programme leader Áine O‘Meara says:
"Commissioning editors can also choose to tell the other side of that story. In order to challenge that false notion of schizophrenia or psychosis being intrinsically linked to violence, we need to not let court cases or Hollywood be audiences’ only frame of reference."
According to Early Intervention for Psychosis (EIP) national clinical lead Karen O‘Connor, people living with psychosis are far more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.
Various studies show that people with schizophrenia are up to 14 times more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators. Even though the victimisation rate is about twice as high as in the general public.
O'Connor points out that while it is often given little attention in the media, about 60–70% of psychoses can be completely controlled or the symptoms can subside enough to allow independent living.
Although relapses can occur, even then there is a wide range of treatment options thanks to the EIP team. In addition to medication, these included cognitive-behavioural therapy for psychosis (CBTp) and trauma-informed care. Employment, physical health, and family supports are also offered.
— Aisling Culhane (@AislingCulhane) March 23, 2023
According to Donohoe, a lot of people living with psychosis are afraid to speak openly about their experience. It is therefore all the more important that the media give them a voice.
A 2018 study by Headline shows that there is also a fear of reporting on severe mental illness among media professionals, says O'Meara.
She says: "Media workers who took part in the research, whether they worked in factual programming or news publishing, were so afraid they’d get it wrong that they just didn’t cover aspects of severe mental illness at all. This is a gap that Headline is actively trying to fill."
According to O'Meara, the study provides a guide and roadmap for journalists who have successfully avoided increasing stigma and are now attempting to "move the dial further."