Original Article

Newspaper depiction of mental illness in Nigeria

Joshua Erubami, Paul Bebenimibo, Gregory Ezeah, Omanwa Muobike
Journal of Public Health in Africa | Vol 14, No 11 | a45 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4081/jphia.2023.1527 | © 2024 Joshua Erubami, Paul Bebenimibo, Gregory Ezeah, Omanwa Muobike | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 14 March 2024 | Published: 30 November 2023

About the author(s)

Joshua Erubami, Department of Mass Communication, Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria
Paul Bebenimibo, Department of Mass Communication, Delta State University, Abraka, Nigeria
Gregory Ezeah, Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
Omanwa Muobike, Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria

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Abstract

Mental illness is fast becoming a leading cause of global disease burden, yet this aspect of public health remains highly neglected in Nigeria. The public relies on newspapers for diverse information needs and the way newspapers portray mental illness‑related issues tends to sway public perception of such ailments. This study examined the level of media attention and prime discursive resources utilized by newspapers to depict mental illness‑related issues from 2015 to 2019. Using a qualita‑ tive approach and ethnographic design, the study analyzed the manifest contents of three major Nigerian national newspapers selected through a multistage sampling technique. Data collec‑ tion was done using a coding spreadsheet that reflected relevant content categories and units of analysis. Of the 920 health articles analyzed, only 79 (8.6%) articles discussed mental illness. Also, 84.8% of all mental illness‑related articles were tucked in the inside pages of the newspapers and 58.2% of the stories were reported using the conventional straight news. The negative themes of suicide (36.7%) and substance abuse (32.9%) were the prime discursive resources that echoed in many of the analyzed articles. Overall, mental illness‑related issues were grossly under‑reported by Nigerian newspapers when compared to other health issues, and wrong media depiction of the problem remains a risk factor. Hence, Nigerian newspapers must strive toward setting better agenda that will actuate necessary policy actions from health stakeholders by providing adequate coverage and positive representation of mental illness‑related issues.

Keywords

mental health; social stigma; psychiatric facilities; public attitude; agenda‑setting

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