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Nigerian Newspapers Underrepresent Mental Illness- Study

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By Chidera Nwabueze, Michael Nwose and Covenant Orji

A recent study has shown that major Nigerian newspapers are paying less attention to the growing burden of mental illness in the country.

The study, which analysed data from leading Nigerian newspapers, was published in January in the journal of Public Health in Health, an international peer-reviewed journal indexed in leading global databases, including Scopus and Clarivate Analytics.

The study, which examined articles published over a specific period, revealed a stark contrast in coverage between mental illness and other health-related topics.

This significant coverage gap indicates that for nearly every twelve health-related stories, only one pertained to mental health.

Furthermore, the analysis highlighted that the majority of health issues covered by the press were well-known diseases such as cancer, poliomyelitis, cardiac diseases, Ebola Virus, Celebro Spinal Meningitis, and malaria.

“It is a case of the media focusing on what is known and neglecting what seems unknown despite its debilitating consequences”, explained Joshua Erubami, the article’s lead researcher and lecturer in the Department of Mass Communication at Delta State University (DELSU), Abraka.

Other authors listed in the articles were Dr Paul Bebeminibo also of the Department of Mass Communication at DELSU and Prof. Gregory Ezeah and Dr. Omanwa Muobike both of the Department of Mass Communication at University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

The article suggested that despite the global recognition of mental illness as a leading cause of death, the study found that Nigerian newspapers continue to underreport and neglect mental health issues.

Alarmingly, mental illness-related articles were predominantly relegated to the inside pages of newspapers, with only a minimal percentage featured on the front page, where critical issues are typically highlighted.

Moreover, the study observed a concerning trend in the portrayal of mental illness in the media.

While some articles leaned towards a positive direction by emphasising recovery and hope for those with mental illness, a significant portion depicted mental illness in a negative light.

“We observed that negative themes such as danger, suspicion, instability, and irresponsibility perpetuated harmful stereotypes surrounding mental health”, explained Erubami in an interview with DELSU Echo.

“These forms of stigma perpetuated by the mass media essentially constitute a stumbling block against the war against mental illness.

“The mass media are supposed to uphold the moral conscience of society and foster a true sense of belonging among the various strata of the population.

So, by promoting stereotypes against the mentally challenged, the mass media is invariably placing the society on reverse gears health-wise.”

Notably, suicide and substance abuse emerged as dominant themes in mental illness-related articles, overshadowing discussions on mental health awareness, psychiatric facilities, and legal frameworks. Despite Nigeria’s alarming suicide rates, the media failed to adequately address the root causes and prevention strategies, opting instead for sensationalized coverage.

The study underscores the urgent need for Nigerian newspapers to prioritize mental health issues and combat stigma through responsible reporting.

By providing accurate information, promoting awareness campaigns, and advocating for improved mental health care infrastructure, the media can play a vital role in addressing the growing challenges of mental illness in the country.

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