Emma O’Neill, a recent Cognitive Science graduate at the University of Edinburgh, has given a talk at her alma mater about her research project on the representation of mental health within the media.
Her investigation, which was shortlisted for national awards, concerns the use of language and terminology associated with mental health.
O’Neill spoke to The Student, explaining that she decided to focus her research on mental health as it is a “personal interest”. Having gone through her “own difficulties going through university”, a topic on mental health was “a close-to-the-heart subject.”
She opened the talk by drawing attention to the fact that when people are prompted with the words ‘mental health’, issues such as depression, anxiety and addictions are typically listed. What exactly then, O’Neill asked, are mental illnesses?
Compared to the term ‘physical health’, ‘mental health’ suggests more negative connotations. The term has become a synonym for mental illness. O’Neill’s project is concerned with proving this assimilation of two different meanings, by analysing the language and discourse used when discussing mental health.
The investigation revealed that despite the increase in the volume of discussions surrounding mental health “which coincide with a big increase in awareness campaigns”, the issue has become increasingly negatively regarded within media. Therefore, this increase in discourse is not yet helping to de-stigmatise mental health.
In order to demonstrate this, O’Neill used corpus analysis, utilising a collection of text to “turn words into numbers”. This technology is used to compile large amount of text to establish patterns in the use of language.
O’Neill focused her research on articles published in The Guardian, looking at the level of association between the terms ‘mental illness’ and ‘mental health’.
O’Neill is continuing her academic career as a Master’s student based in Dublin.
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