Objectives: There have been concerns in the international literature that the manner in which psychiatry and psychiatric patients is portrayed in the print media is negative and sensational. If correct this has serious implications for the stigma and prejudice that our patients will suffer. This study was designed to evaluate the content and tone of articles relating to psychiatry. It was compared with a broadly similar study published in 1995 and will form the base from which to measure changes in psychiatric coverage over time.
Method: All the daily broadsheets, one daily tabloid and three Sunday broadsheets were examined for a six month period in 1999 and all articles, letters or headlines incorporating psychiatry-related material were examined. Using specific definitions, articles and headlines were examined for tone and content as well as for the contribution of mental health professionals.
Results: Overall 0.65 articles per newspaper per day were found. News items and feature predominated, with forensic issues receiving the greatest attention. The tone of the articles was either neutral or positive and the improvement in the tone of articles in the tabloids was particularly noticeable when compared with an earlier study. This is very different from the findings of international studies. However, the headlines were more sensational in tone than the contents of the articles themselves. Increasingly the opinion of health professionals was sought but contributions from psychiatrists remained low, writing just two articles and constituting 15% of health professionals whose opinions were sought. Nine per cent of items constituted misuse of terms.
Conclusions: The Irish print media are not hostile to psychiatry and there has been an improvement in tone and type of article in the past five years. Greater involvement of psychiatrists in the media and particularly more direct engagement with editors is required if there is to be a shift from coverage of forensic matters in favour of informative articles as well as improvement in the headline tone.