Mental illness, the media and stigmatisation

newspaper_reader.jpgThe latest issue of open-access medical journal PLoS Medicine has two articles discussing the campaign to destigmatise schizophrenia, and the role of the media in communicating health information.

The first article notes that social stigma, rather than the effects of the condition itself, has been found to be the greatest problem facing people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The authors examine the effectiveness of campaigns that have tried to tackle the problem, such as the World Psychiatric Association’s Open The Doors campaign.

Such campaigns are controversial in some quarters, however, as they are often based on communicating the idea that schizophrenia is a ‘treatable brain illness‘.

Some research has shown that providing members of the public with a medical or biological explanation for schizophrenia leads people to think of affected individuals as more dangerous and unpredictable than when a social or psychological explanation is given. There is some evidence that a similar effect occurs for professionals.

This might suggest that campaigns based on the biological explanations might have the opposite of the intended effect, although opponents to this view argue that mental illness undoubtedly has a biological component, and education should focus on freeing affected individuals from stigma regardless of how their experiences are explained.

Related to this, PloS Medicine asked a number of health journalists and other professionals to discuss the role of the media in educating the public about health education. The article highlights examples of good and bad practice during recent media frenzies.

This comes in the wake of a previous article, where the ex-editor of the British Medical Journal argued that medical journals have become an “extension of the marketing arm of pharmaceutical companies”.

Link to article ‘The Global Fight against the Stigma of Schizophrenia’.
Link to article ‘What Are the Roles and Responsibilities of the Media in Disseminating Health Information?’.

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