Psychiatry in the news

Over the years, media has had many reasons to address the issue of care and support to people with mental illnesses. The Swedish mental hospitals have been done away with and the counties have had to face new responsibilities. Several violent crimes linked to mental illness have attracted media attention, not least in 2003 in connection with the assassination of the Swedish Prime Minister of Foreign Affairs.

The study was conducted in a broad and long-term perspective and considered the changes witnessed in the psychiatric field. The thesis explores and analyses the content of the Swedish news programme Rapport, broadcasted nationally by state-owned SVT, from 1980 to 2006. It also sheds light on aspects that may influence news coverage, and on the attitudes among journalists and the public with respect to the psychiatric field. Based on the results, Magnusson discusses the relevance of news reporting at the individual and community levels.

The study shows that the psychiatric field received more coverage in terms of frequency, space and headline attention at the end than at the beginning of the studied period. All in all, over the 27-year period, four out of ten news items linked to the psychiatric field concerned health care and legislation, and three out of ten were related to violent crimes or subsequent court proceedings. Regarding changes over time, Magnusson found that news related to health care and legislation gained more coverage and that in the headlines, news involving violence became more common.

The increased news media coverage is probably linked to interacting factors in the psychiatric field and journalism. It may for example indicate that the psychiatric field has become more of a public issue. It may also mean that the psychiatric field has adapted to media's way of working.

Interviews with journalists reveal that there is a dilemma between, on one hand, allowing mentally ill individuals to be featured in the media just like other people and, on the other hand, protecting an often inexperienced and very vulnerable group of people. Although the psychiatric field has become an important public issue, it still seems to be an area that is perceived as very sensitive. This motivates using the psychiatric field as a basis for discussions on the purpose of journalism and the work performed by journalists.

Title of the doctoral thesis (in Swedish): Bilden av psykiatriområdet. Nyhetsrapporteringen i Rapport 1980-2006. (The image of the psychiatric field. News items in Rapport 1980-2006)

Author: Ann-Sofie Magnusson, tel. +46 (0)739 08 97 42 (mobile), +46 (0)31 786 12 12 (work).

E-mail: ann-sofie.magnusson@jmg.gu.se

Faculty opponent: Karin Ljuslinder, Umeå University.
The thesis was successfully defended on: Friday 12 March 2010, Gothenburg.

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