A PhD research project funded by Australian Rotary Health (ARH) may help in breaking down stigma surrounding mental illness, by providing resources to improve the quality of media reporting.
Anna Ross from the University of Melbourne was awarded an Ian Scott PhD Scholarship by ARH from 2019-2021, with the aim to mitigate the impact of media on stigmatising attitudes towards people with severe mental illness.
This research builds on ARH funded research led by Professor Jane Pirkis and Mindframe to improve the quality of suicide reporting in Australia, by extending media guidance to cover responsible reporting on mental illness in the context of violence and crime.
“Mental illness stigma is highest towards people with severe mental illness, including those with schizophrenia, psychosis and bipolar disorders,” Anna said.
“Misconceptions about people with severe mental illness are commonly held by the public, including beliefs about unpredictability, dangerousness, and violence. These stereotypes are often perpetuated by news portrayals, which exaggerate the occurrence of rare incidents of violence that involve mental illness.”
Anna’s PhD was broken up into four studies, with the first including systematic reviews investigating the impact of news portrayals of people with severe mental illness on stigma, and media interventions aiming to mitigate any adverse impact.
“My research shows that news portrayals of people with severe mental illness, including people with psychosis, schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, can negatively influence public attitudes towards people with mental illness, including increased beliefs about dangerousness and unpredictability,” Anna said.
In a second study, 32 key Australian stakeholders were interviewed, including people with lived experience of severe mental illness, media professionals, and mental health professionals.
Anna was able to use the expert consensus to inform study 3, which developed best-practice guidelines to inform more balanced, accurate and informative new portrayals of people with mental illness in the context of violence and crime.
“These guidelines aim to reduce stigmatising news portrayals and aim to ultimately reduce stigmatising attitudes towards people with mental illness amongst the public.”
The fourth study involved the development of a media intervention based on the guidelines, where journalism students were recruited for an uncontrolled pilot trial.
“The media intervention was found to improve student journalistic behaviours, behavioural intentions and confidence to report consistently with the best-practice guidelines, attitudes towards people with severe mental illness, and knowledge of best-practice reporting,” Anna said.
“The evaluation of media training based on the guidelines shows promising results and provides a basis for wider implementation and evaluation of this training.”
Anna now plans to build on her PhD research by conducting a randomised controlled trial of the media training.
“The findings from a more rigorous evaluation can be used to inform wider implementation of the media training, which will hopefully translate to improved media reporting practice in Australia,” she said.
“I also plan to conduct further work to increase dissemination and uptake of the media guidelines, to increase their impact on media portrayals and the subsequent impact on stigma.”
Anna has had four journal articles and an article published in The Conversation, as a result of this research.
Read articles below:
This research was also reported in an article in The Conversation – read here.
The media guidelines are available to download from the Mindframe website.
Listen to Anna talk about this research on episode 55 of the Research Behind Lift the Lid podcast.
Media contact: Jessica Cooper – firstname.lastname@example.org