Mental Health and the media: dissertation proposal and research project

I am interested in mental health. Trying to do university work without somehow relating it to health is nearly impossible for me. At the moment I am deliberately trying to steer away from mental health for one piece, just to be a bit different for once, and it’s a struggle! But my dissertation and a research project are mental health related. They’re big pieces, so it needs to be something I want to do.

My original idea was to look at the representation of mental health professionals in UK newspapers, however it became quickly apparent that this is too uncovered to study as an undergraduate. I spoke to someone about it and they suggested not doing it on mental health however after speaking to someone else it was evident that there is nothing else I can get so passionate about. If I’m doing my dissertation on it, I have to be interested.

Although I’m also interested in researching something to do with journalists with mental health problems, this too seemed unlikely to be a good choice. So…I am doing “The perception of the changing portrayal of mental illness in UK newspapers”.

Basically academic research suggests overall, there has been little improvement in the way mental illness is represented. Some research has found some improvements, i.e. for particular disorders like depression and anxiety, but not so for others i.e. psychotic disorders and personality disorders. There is the suggestion that positive portrayals have increased, but that this hasn’t led to a reduction in negative ones.

So I am going to look at how the audience perceives this. Do people think there has been a change? Do they think there hasn’t? Is their perception affected by having a personal experience of mental illness? I am going to do this through an online questionnaire and compliment it with follow-up interviews of a smaller sample.

For my research project I am looking at the marginalisation and stigmatisation of people with a mental illness. I am then going to challenge this by creating a character profile for a soap opera. My point is two-fold. Firstly that people with mental health problems in soaps are often depicted as being ‘ill’ and then becoming ‘well’ and very rarely do portrayals reflect the reality. My second point is that personality disorders are rarely represented, at all. I am going to use a female actress who has a diagnosis of personality disorder herself, as one thing people want to improve is using disabled actors/actresses to play disabled characters.

I was going to write my own script, however I feel that a script will be short and unable to capture my point. I am considering making a video to show how this marginalisation effects people with mental illness though I’m unsure if I am allowed to this. I have a video I made in first year but I need a new one.

I’m really enjoying doing my dissertation proposal. I’m enjoying being able to do it on what I care about, and putting my own input in. It’s the first time at university we’ve really been able to do this. It’s making me consider postgraduate courses and going into research/teaching. At the moment I’m split between that and going into NHS communications. I’m going to do some work experience with the local teams, one is the general services team and the other is the mental health trust. I think that should help me know whether it’s what I want. I’m definitely leaning towards NHS comms over research but I wish I could do everything. I’d do just about any and every degree going if I could!

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