Mediating Mental Health
The 'Mediating Mental Health: An Integrated Approach to Investigating Media and Social Actors' (2014-2017) project is seeking to contribute to a deeper understanding of the production, representation and reception of mental health news. It is examining the role media play in shaping public understandings and responses to mental health issues, how understandings of mental health issues that circulate in various media are taken up or resisted by different audiences and how they are produced by journalists and sources, including advocacy organisations, mental health professionals and researchers. Critical to the project is the way in which people with lived experience of mental distress (consumer, service users, survivors) engage with media, their perceptions of stigma in relation to how mental health issues are framed, and how their views compare with those of advocacy organisations, mental health professionals and researchers, journalists and the wider community.
Research shows that news media can provide powerful portrayals of the lived experiences of mental distress and challenge misconceptions, but that too often mental illness is portrayed in ways that are more likely to feed misconceptions. Studies show that mental health service users, their families and mental health advocates and professionals view the media as making a key contribution to the stigmatisation of mental health issues. At the same time, scholars have also identified problems and limitations with anti-stigma interventions targeting the media. The objectives of the Mediating Mental Health project are to:
- Analyse the framing of mental health issues in Australian news media, including how journalists identify mental health news and determine whose opinions are sought;
- Identify how specific reporting practices and the positioning of different actors within news stories influences people's responses to the issues portrayed
- Identify how media impacts the practices of lay people, advocacy organisations, professionals and researchers within the mental health field;
- Explore the opportunities and challenges online and social media present for addressing the concerns of different groups;
- Elaborate concepts of biocommunicability and mediatisation in relation to understanding the impact of news media and interest group representations of mental health issues.
Located within communication and media studies and cultural studies of psychiatry, the research draws upon concepts of biocommunicability and (bio)mediatisation, perspectives from Mad Studies, and methods of discourse and thematic analysis to investigate factors shaping mental health news, the media-oriented practices of actors in the mental health field, and the ways in which media representations impact views and experiences of mental distress.
See below for full list of research outputs.
Mediating Mental Health 1-day workshop
Date: Wednesday 28th November
Mediating Mental Health: Lived Experiences, Mad Studies and Interdisciplinary Opportunities
This workshop will bring together people with lived experience of mental distress (consumers, survivors, service users) and researchers from a range of backgrounds who have an interest in and/or are working on projects related to media studies/consumer perspectives/critical psychology/Mad Studies and related areas.
The symposium has two primary aims:
- to share and seek feedback on findings from the ‘Mediating Mental Health’ research project; and
- to discuss and develop ideas for future collaborative projects oriented to advancing consumer and Mad Studies perspectives within media, academic and community contexts in Australia.
Registrations for the workshop can be made via the Eventbrite page. For questions regarding the workshop, contact email@example.com.
Kate Holland, Chief Investigator, is a Senior Research Fellow in the News & Media Research Centre at the University of Canberra. Kate received her PhD in Communication from the University of Canberra in 2008 for her thesis entitled 'Conformity and Resistance: Discursive Struggles in the Australian Mental Health Field'. The project drew upon theories from media and communication studies, sociology and postpsychiatry to qualitatively analyse the contested nature of mental health theory and practice in Australia through the examination of a range of discursive practices. These included research ethics review, media reporting, anti-stigma campaigns, disease mongering, and consumer/survivor perspectives.
The 'Mediating Mental Health: An Integrated Approach to Investigating Media and Social Actors' project is funded by a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award from the Australian Research Council (DE140100100). The Project has received ethics approval from the Committee for Ethics in Human Research of the University of Canberra.
Kate has undertaken interviews and focus groups comprising 83 participants, exploring topics ranging from journalists’ experiences reporting on mental health issues; participants’ personal/professional experience of mental health issues; participants’ views about newsworthy stories, sources and impacts of media reports; engagement with online and social media; media-oriented practices, including interactions with journalists; and responses to specific media items. The majority of the interviews and focus groups were undertaken in 2015 in various locations in NSW, Victoria, the ACT, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania. They ranged in length from 45 minutes to 2.5 hours.
Research findings to date have been published in Journalism Studies, Communication Research & Practice, Australian Journalism Review, and Disability & Society. The research has also been presented at conferences of the International Association for Media and Communication Research and the Australian & New Zealand Communication Association.
Several further articles from the media analysis and interviews are under review or in preparation. Topics include: catalysts, topics, sources and framing of mental health news; media-related practices of organisations and professionals working in the mental health field, including how participants negotiate the tensions that arise from accommodating different media and journalistic routines and practices; competing views about the concept of mental health literacy and its consequences; ways of challenging stigma, including the role of media and communication campaigns in ‘normalising’ mental health issues; participants’ experiences of disclosing and talking about mental health issues; and issues around language and images.
This article examines how mental health service users/consumers, advocates, professionals and researchers interpret and theorise the impacts of mental health news. It focuses on the following themes: Creating fears about mental illness by focusing on criminal and violent acts; Reinforcing power imbalances by privileging biomedical issues and sources; and Sanitising mental health issues through the selective use of personal narratives. The study draws upon the concept of biocommunicability, which casts light on the performative power of health news in reinforcing ideas and expectations about the appropriate role for different actors to adopt in relation to health knowledge. Previous research on health news has identified biomedical authority, patient-consumer and public sphere as three predominant models of biocommunicability and this article examines how these are bound up with criticisms of mental health news. The findings are related to the ‘mediatisation of psychiatric culture’ as one of extremes and perspectives from Mad Studies.
Holland, K. (2018). Lay theories and criticisms of mental health news: Elaborating the concept of biocommuncability. Disability & Society. https://doi.org/10.1080/09687599.2018.1487831
Digital media and models of biocommunicability in health journalism: Insights from the production and reception of mental health news
This article explores some of the ways in which digital and social media are potentially impacting health journalism with particular attention to the findings of interviews with Australian journalists about their experiences reporting on mental health issues. The article draws upon the concept of biocommunicability developed by Briggs and Hallin as a lens through which to examine the ways in which journalists position themselves and other social actors in the construction of health news. In particular, the article engages the question of how digital media may work to enable and constrain biomedical authority, patient-consumer and public sphere orientations to health journalism. The article considers the interview findings in relation to previous research from journalism studies and focuses on issues around sourcing practices and content demands and web traffic/analytics as a measure of audience interest. Some areas for further research are identified.
Holland, K. (2017). Digital media and models of biocommunicability in health journalism: Insights from the production and reception of mental health news. Australian Journalism Review, 39(2), 67-77. https://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=360410321082825;res=IELLCC
Making mental health news: Australian journalists’ views on news values, sources and reporting challenges
This study is based on interviews with Australian journalists about their experiences of reporting on mental health issues, including how they see their role and their views about characteristics of newsworthy stories and sources and reporting challenges. The analysis draws out the following themes: Exposing problems with psychiatry and mental health care; Highlighting gaps between rhetoric and reality; Humanising case studies; Putting vulnerable people at risk; and Negotiating pushy and shy sources. The study draws upon the concept of biocommunicability to consider these themes in the context of biomedical authority, patient-consumer and public sphere orientations to reporting. Journalists tended to convey a public sphere orientation, but they also gave examples of how the concerns of sources and audiences could work against this. The study suggests that factors such as competition for funding within the mental health field and pressures within the media industry play an important role in shaping the models of biocommunicability found in mental health news and in the mediatised practices of actors within the mental health field. The article argues that a preoccupation with the potential harms of reporting could work to constrain journalism that challenges and moves beyond the privileging of biomedical authority and patient-consumer models.
Holland, K. (2017). Making mental health news: Australian journalists’ views on news values, sources and reporting challenges. Journalism Studies. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1461670X.2017.1304826
Biocommunicability and the politics of mental health: an analysis of responses to the ABC’s ‘Mental As’ campaign
For the past 2 years during Mental Health Week in Australia, the ABC has dedicated a week of programming across all of its platforms to mental health issues. The ‘Mental As’ campaign has been widely praised for creating awareness and raising funds for mental health research, while also drawing some strong criticism. This article provides a thematic analysis of a selection of media and public responses to Mental As with particular attention to the following four themes: starting a national conversation; combating stigma; emphasising the political economy of mental health; and resisting restitution narratives. The analysis draws upon the concept of ‘biocommunicability’ to explore the links between people’s responses to the campaign and their uptake or resistance of the subject positions it invited them to adopt. The article seeks to offer some insight into the ways in which media and communication practices can figure in the biopolitics of mental health.
Holland, K. (2017). Biocommunicability and the politics of mental health: an analysis of responses to the ABC’s ‘Mental As’ campaign. Communication Research & Practice 3(2), 176-193. https://doi.org/10.1080/22041451.2016.1228977
Holland, K. (2018). Investigating the media-oriented practices of actors in the Australian mental health field. Paper presented at the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association annual conference, Auckland, New Zealand, July.
Holland, K. (2018). Investigating the media-oriented practices of actors in the Australian mental health field. Paper to be presented at the International Association for Media and Communication Research conference, Eugene, Oregon.
Holland, K. (2017). Repertoires of media criticism and praise and their connections to biocommunicability: an interview study with mental health consumers, advocates and professionals. Paper presented at the International Association for Media and Communication Research conference, Cartagena, Columbia.
Holland, K. (2016). Mental health in the media: Views and experience of consumers, journalists and advocates. Presentation to the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW Annual Symposium, Sydney, Australia.
Holland, K. (2016). Making mental health news: an analysis of the views and experiences of journalists, mental health consumers, advocates and professionals. Paper presented at the International Association for Media and Communication Research conference, Leicester, UK.
Holland, K. (2016). Mediating mental health: exploring the views and experiences of journalists, advocates and people with lived experience. Paper presented at the Australian & New Zealand Communication Association conference, Newcastle, Australia.
Holland, K. (2015). Contesting the power of media and communication in the context of mental health issues. Paper presented at the International Association for Media and Communication Research conference, Montreal, Canada.