Linguistics, University of Glasgow
Tenure since 2017
Questioning the Mental/Physical Health Divide: A Corpus Linguistic Analysis of Press Coverage
Whilst previously mental illness was seen as distinct from physical illness, the division between physical and mental health conditions is now recognised as largely unhelpful and inaccurate by medical experts. However, amongst the general public, mental illness remains highly stigmatised and is treated as distinct from physical illness. Media representations have been shown to significantly influence public perceptions and the prevalence of stigmas, and differences in media coverage of different illnesses may therefore be contributing to the persistence of a societal distinction between ‘physical’ and ‘mental’ illness.
Ewan’s research will investigate this by conducting a large-scale, corpus linguistic analysis of UK and US newspaper coverage of different illnesses. Two large collections (‘corpora’) of newspapers articles will be constructed, with one corpus composed of UK articles and the other of US articles. Press coverage relating to a range of disorders across the traditional physical/mental health spectrum will be used to construct each corpus, with articles relating to each of these illnesses being collected from a variety of different newspapers, over a twenty-year period. Computer software will then be used to analyse these articles computationally, determining statistically-significant terms (‘keywords’) and the words these terms frequently co-occur with (their ‘collocates’) in coverage of each illness.
Keyword and collocate results will be compared between illnesses diachronically, determining similarities and differences in the thematic content and stylistic construction of various illness discourses, and between categories of newspaper, with particular focus on any stigma-related associations in coverage. Health conditions which are presented similarly in press coverage will also be identified by the results of keyword and collocate analysis, allowing for the identification of ‘groupings’ of illness made by the press – these may be based on pre-existing societal distinctions (such as the divide between traditionally ‘mental’ and traditionally ‘physical’ health conditions), or new categorisations may emerge from analysis of the coverage. Results will then be compared between UK and US coverage, to analyse the cross-regional consistency of disorder discourses and illness groupings, and identify any significant variations in this relationship over time. Consequently, this study will provide insight into categorisations of illness presented by press coverage, as well as identifying areas of concern for individual illnesses in press health coverage, enabling the development of stigma-reduction proposals.
Ewan studied an MA in English Language and Literature as a joint honours degree at the University of Glasgow, graduating with First Class Honours in 2016. Though English Literature was his preferred subject initially, Ewan became increasingly interested in English Language and Linguistics as his undergraduate degree progressed, and for his dissertation conducted a small-scale linguistic analysis of UK press coverage of mental health, for which he received the Lisa Lena Opas-Hänninen Prize for Outstanding Achievement in Undergraduate Research in Empirical English Language and Linguistics.
Having found this research highly engaging, Ewan decided to study an MPhil (Research) in English Language & Linguistics at the University of Glasgow. Significantly expanding upon his undergraduate dissertation, this research investigated UK press coverage of mental illness over a twenty-year period (1995-2014), and was conducted under the supervision of Dr Catherine Emmott and Dr Wendy Anderson. Ewan also received support from the university for this research, receiving the Historical Thesaurus Postgraduate Scholarship to fund his tuition. Ewan’s PhD research broadens and develops on his previous research by investigating press coverage of a variety of physical and mental health conditions, in the UK and the US., and is again being conducted under the supervision of Dr Catherine Emmott and Dr Wendy Anderson at the University of Glasgow.