Mental illnesses have existed as far back as the time of the ancient civilizations. Yet, it is only in recent years that the general population have become so aware and well-acquainted of these mental health disorders, thanks to the onset of the digital age. Mass media is a primary source of information about psychological disorders such as, but not limited to, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and depression. It was author Jum C. Nunnally’s book, The Psychometric Theory, that launched the scientific study of mental health in the public eye. In it, Nunnally discussed and analyzed the differing perspectives of the mental health experts, the general public, and the mass media. Besides that, the misunderstandings caused by false representations and negative portrayals were also emphasized and criticized. It is quite clear that the media depicts mental issues in a terrible light, despite the growing scientific advances being made in studying and treating them (for example, therapy). It is this kind of misrepresentation that unfortunately creates a stigma around mental health.
Situating Mental Health Stigma Within Mass Media Interventions
Mental illnesses becoming a ‘stigma’ is a phenomenon that occurs around the world, affecting not only those who face them on but also their families and societies. Because of the general public’s unwillingness to understand the conditions of mental health, the stigma encourages ignorance, prejudice, and discrimination within a community. The repercussions from these kinds of behaviors could result in a lack of professional help, poverty, and unnecessary and stereotypical labeling. These orders go on to become untreated, simply because it is seen as a taboo.
In response to this, the idea of holding media interventions has been brought up. Mass media has a wide, prolific audience through channels of communication. Rather than a conventional intervention where face-to-face contact occurs, mass media interventions reach out to a large number of people at once. They vary in several aspects, such as their target audience, their resources, and their specific area. These kinds of interventions are utilized because it allows for an introduction that does not overwhelm its audience. Mass media campaigns have been proven to be more effective when they are conducted thoroughly and last for a longer amount of time.
Healthcare professionals and individuals or families who have experienced the stigma associated with mental health are usually advocates for mass media interventions. Some research studies have found that anti-stigma mass media interventions on mental health have managed to reduce discrimination, as well as increase the utilization of mental health services. This study is also found in an article in www.whattoexpect.com. However, despite these results, this type of approach is still highly intricate and should be dealt with delicately.
Situating Mental Health Stigma Within The Community
In the case of communities in Uganda, mental illnesses are prevalent but poorly understood. They base the cause and manifestations for mental health issues on their belief systems, which vary from social, religious, and cultural. Often a dilemma is posed in regards to choosing between traditional or medical treatments. Because of this, patients are often misdiagnosed, wrongly treated, and lack adequate and appropriate professional care. Therefore, efforts are being made to ensure that mass media interventions educate rather than confuse, most especially when it comes to developing countries.
Methods – Live Radio Talk Shows
Take for instance, in Uganda. The Community Psychiatric Support Organization is a listed not-for-profit group in Uganda that was founded in 2009. Their goal is to encourage mental health well-being by enabling the public and encouraging concern for those with mental health issues. They directed sixty-six live radio mental health education talks on five different radio stations (Radio Simba FM, Impact FM, Family Radio FM, Beat FM and Top Radio), and participated on twenty-six live television talk shows in three local stations (Uganda Broadcasting Corporation TV, Star TV and Top TV) in Uganda sometime from January 2013 and September 2015.
During these segments, members of the public such as spiritual pastors and traditional healers joined them. The outline for their programs consisted of informing the audience what mental illness is, what causes them, what signs and symptoms to watch out for, and what treatments are possible. The public was encouraged to call in or send in text messages for any comments or inquires after the programs.
Implications For Practice And Research Mental health practitioners and researchers working in developing countries face major challenges when working with mental health clients, as well as with convincing the public to respect mental health and to bring these issues to light. The public desperately needs to receive information about mental issues that are accurate, appropriate, and accessible. Mass media interventions have proven their ability to reduce discrimination about mental health, albeit at a limited level. Everyone involved must work hand-in-hand towards reducing misperceptions and misinformation in a culturally appropriate and socially acceptable manner.