Washington | The portrayals of populations affected by post-traumatic stress disorder in the New York Times articles do not reflect the epidemiology of the disorder, say researchers who found that PTSD was negatively framed in many reports in the US’s most influential paper.
Researchers examined how the New York Times portrayed PTSD from the year it was first added to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (1980) to 2015.
Mass media shape public awareness about mental health issues and affect mental illness problem recognition, management, and treatment-seeking by providing information about risk factors, symptoms, coping strategies, and treatment options, said Jonathan Purtle, from the Drexel University in the US and the study’s principle investigator. Between 1980 and 2015, 871 news articles mentioned PTSD.
Purtle and colleagues Katherine Lynn and Marshal Malik pointed out three specific issues in the Times’ coverage that could have negative consequences. New York Times portrayals of populations affected by PTSD do not reflect the epidemiology of the disorder, researchers said.
The team found that 50.6 per cent of the Times’ articles focused on military cases of PTSD, including 63.5 per cent of the articles published in the last 10 years. Purtle’s past research showed that most PTSD cases are related to noncombat traumas in civilians. The number of civilians affected by PTSD is 13 times larger than the number of military personnel affected by the disorder.
Occurrences are also much more likely in those who survive non-combat traumas, which include sexual assault (30-80 per cent of survivors develop PTSD), nonsexual assault (23-39 per cent develop it), disasters (30-40 per cent) and car crashes (25-33 per cent), among other causes. However, coverage like that in the Times leads the general public to believe that a PTSD diagnosis requires some military component, researchers said.
PTSD was negatively framed in many articles, they said. Self-stigma attached to PTSD has been identified as a strong barrier to seeking treatment. With fewer articles over the years mentioning treatment options (decreasing from 19.4 per cent of all PTSD-focused articles in 1980-1995 to just 5.7 per cent in 2005-2015), it is particularly harmful when articles focused on negative portrayals of those with PTSD, researchers said.
Purtle and colleagues found that 16.6 per cent of the articles were about court cases in which the defendant potentially had PTSD, while 11.5 per cent of other articles talked about substance abuse. These negative themes could create misconceptions that people who have PTSD are dangerous and discourage employers from hiring prospective employees with the disorder, Purtle said.
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