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.

“Presentations of borderline personality disorder in the UK press” by Laura A. Cariola

This study “Presentations of borderline personality disorder in the UK press: A corpus-assisted discourse analysis” has been presented on the 5th May 2017 as an invited speaker talk at the Cross Disciplinary Perspectives on ‘anti-social personality disorder’: Antisocial Personality Disorder (ASPD) in Context” seminar series in London (Funded by the ESRC).

Abstract

People with borderline personality disorder are exposed to stigma and discrimination towards mental illness, which impacts on their quality of life and recovery. Through the use of corpus-assisted discourse analysis, this presentation explores the discursive constructions of borderline personality disorder in the UK Press. The corpus included 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.

An initial analysis of frequent key words indicated that discourses were highly gendered with significantly more references to women than men – “her” (23,820), “she” (22,539) vs. “he” (11,382), “his” (9,691), which is consistent with women being associated with borderline personality disorder (Becker, 1997). Women’s identities were often described through familial relationship – “her mother” (871), “her daughter” (591), “her family” (567), “her son” (470) and “her father” (405) – and women’s ownership status was restrained to simplistic existential themes – “her life” (1,179), “her death” (860), “her problems” (124). Suicide was more frequently reported in relation to women – “took (119), take (94), end (32), taken (40) her life” or “jumped (56) to her death”, compared to men. Women are also more often reported of having killed their own mother – e.g., “killed (46), stabbing (39), killing (23) her mother”, whereas in men, mothers were implicitly or explicitly blamed – e.g., “his mother was jailed”, “his mother was an alcoholic”, “his mother was largely to blame”, which alludes to parental conflicts as the cause of developing borderline personality disorder (Whalen et al., 2014). Although early parental losses and trauma were reported in both women and men, women were found to have continuous parental dependencies and conflicts – “her parents did take her back into their home”, “was thrown out of her home by her own parents”. In relation to the immediate home environment, women were also passive victims of others’ coercive or destructive behaviour – e.g., “she was taken from her home”, ”she was raped on her way home”.

In summary, the results of this initial 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 may also interfere with clinical perceptions.