Digital Scholarship talk on Complex Mental Illness in the UK Press — November 22, 2017

Presented by Laura Cariola 

Abstract: This seminar reports on an in-depth corpus-assisted discourse analysis which explores how complex mental illnesses are presented in UK newspaper articles and medical case studies.

Special attention is given to identifying how discourse types compare in their communication of stereotypes and prejudices that create and reinforce existing social stigma against individuals affected by mental illness. I will outline an analysis of discursive constructions of borderline personality disorder in the UK Press that was based on 2,139 articles (with total count of 1,868,320 words) from the first mentioning of the term “borderline personality disorder” in 1990, until 2016. The results indicated that discourses were highly gendered with significantly more references to women than men, which is consistent with women being associated with borderline personality disorder (Becker, 1997). Women’s identities were often described through familial relationships, and women’s ownership status was restrained to simplistic existential themes.

Although early parental losses and trauma were reported in both women and men, there were also stereotypical gender-based differences associated to borderline personality disorder-diagnosed women, including reports of suicide and matricide as well as unresolved parental dependencies and conflicts. This alludes to parental conflicts as the cause of developing borderline personality disorder (Whalen et al., 2014). In relation to the home environment, women were also presented as passive victims of others’ coercive or destructive behaviour. In summary, the results of this semantic analysis showed that newspaper articles present stereotypical gender-based differences of borderline personality disorder, which reinforce public’s negative ideologies towards mental illness and women, and may also interfere with clinical perceptions.

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