Ewan Hannaford

Project Title: Questioning the Mental/Physical Health Divide: A Corpus Linguistic Analysis of Press Coverage

Traditionally, mental and physical illness have been seen as distinct categories of illness, but this division is now recognised as being largely unhelpful and inaccurate by medical experts. However, in wider society, mental illness remains highly stigmatised and viewed as distinct from physical illness. The persistence of this societal distinction between ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ illness may be being sustained by differences in media coverage of disorders, as media representations have been shown to significantly influence public perceptions and stigmas surrounding health conditions.

My research investigates this using computer-aided analysis of two large textual databases (‘corpora’) of UK and US press coverage, spanning over 20 years and covering a range of disorders across the traditional physical/mental health spectrum. I am analysing these corpora using specialist software, determining statistically significant terms and frequently occurring linguistic patterns in coverage of different illnesses. This will allow me to establish similarities and differences in the thematic content (particularly stigma-related associations) and stylistic construction of different illness discourses over time, as well as across newspaper types and regions. Consequently, this study will provide a fuller picture of the language used in recent press health coverage, and will offer guidance for writing which more accurately reflects contemporary advances in medical understanding.

Awarded: Carnegie PhD Scholarship

Field: English Language and Linguistics

University: University of Glasgow

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