Unframed Mental Health remains Unclaimed by Media

One of the many roles of a Mental Health Professional is that of a lexicographer.

The economic and social benefits of good Mental Health include both its intrinsic value; improved mental health and well-being, and its instrumental value; ability to form and maintain relationships, to work or pursue leisure interests, and to make decisions in everyday life.

Sounds simple to me! But then one might wonder, how could anyone not see the importance of Mental Health and the urgency it demands?

Public Health

The area of Public Health evolves each moment: viruses mutate, diseases evolve, environments change. There are patterns and predictability for those who watch out. Although much is new, many of the current debates and arguments in Public Health are echoes of the past shaped by our ancestral evolutionary processes.

Does this mean we can use past as a tool to formulate any Public Health policy? By doing so, can we understand current challenges and create innovative ideas to navigate the Public Health world of today and the future?

The idea of a single Public to describe diverse anthropological identities, practices, beliefs and attitudes of millions continues to hold the policymakers and health experts conversations.

Nevertheless, for any measure and planning around Mental Health to be effective, this image of one grand nation needs to be loosened.

This brings us to the question that how does one address any complex problem affecting the subsets of the population who share distinct collective identities and only believe information coming from the sources or types of experts that they trust or turn to?

The FrameWorks Institute works with nonprofit funding groups and philanthropic foundations to translate their message into content best understood by diverse populations. With the theoretical context on framing the public discourse to advance policy outcomes and instruct population-based advocacy approach, they list down three critical questions to consider:

  • How do we get people to think about the given issue?
  • How do we get them to think about this issue in such a way that they will want to solve them collectively through public based approach, not only through individual actions?
  • How do we get them to think about a given issue in such a way that they want to solve them through our public policies?

What are the frames and Biases?

Frames are organizing principles that are socially shared by the population and remain persistent over time. They work symbolically to provide meaningful structure to the social world (Stephen D. Reese, Framing Public Life, 2001).

Implicit Biases are mental associations without our awareness, intention and control. They can often conflict with our conscious attitudes, behaviours, and intentions. These are social preferences that exist outside of conscious awareness. They reflect associations between social categories (blonde girl) and evaluations (dumb). People are not hiding their prejudices; they literally do not know they have them. In fact, the vast majority of those with implicit biases, hold no explicit biases.

People use implicit bias as mental shortcuts to make sense of the world and frame the lens they use for social understanding. Any incoming information they receive provides cues about where to “file” it mentally.

On the other hand, there are conscious patterns of discrimination that are outright offending. However, they pale in comparison to the unconscious patterns that impact us every day.

Social scientists are beginning to realise how much these unconscious perceptions govern many of the most import decisions we make.

Sources

The source they get the most information about public affairs, health-related matters and social issues are from the news media and mass communication. This, over time, creates a framework of expectation, or rather a dominant frame. With time, these frames become the patterns of thought and hope that people use to configure any new incoming information. This helps them to conform to their preconceived frames.

Role of Media

Media has a profound impact on our daily routine of life.[i] What we see or read is what we believe, and that is what determines how we integrate these experiences and act on them. Most of what the public learns about Mental Health as a profession comes from the popular print and electronic media coverage of mental health. Television, radio, and newspapers play an essential role in the public perception of mental illness.

While the media often perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes of mental illness, if properly harnessed, they may also be used to combat the stigma experienced by people with mental illness.

People are not passive receivers of information. Instead, they actively engage with media stories, integrating them with previous narratives, images, or personal experiences. For the media, the content of mental illness depends upon another question: is it interesting? Stories are thus repackaged into forms already familiar to the target audience dramatically influencing what issues the public and their policymakers might eventually address.

Moreover, messages conveyed by mainstream media take on the value of public narratives about the ways of the world and set a fundamental tone for Public Health approach, such as:

  • What issues people think are important for the government to address; agenda-setting
  • The lens through which people interpret issues; framing
  • What information will prove relevant for social and political judgments; priming

A frame isn’t merely a slogan repeated over and over; instead, it is a conceptual construct capable of helping people organise their world. When any communication fails to do so, the message gets discarded in favour of other frames. It happens more when new facts are submitted that do not resonate with the previous frames people operate from. It is the facts that are rejected, not the frames.

The FrameWorks Institute has established some basic perspective on communications as follows:

  • People are not blank slates
  • Communication is interactive
  • Communication resonates with people’s deeply held values and worldviews
  • Communication is frame-based
  • When communication is inadequate, people default to the “pictures in their heads.”
  • When communication is effective, people can see an issue from a different perspective

Right questions to ask!

  • How does the public think about a particular issue?
  • What frames are available to them from media, science and advocates’ communications?
  • What are the consequences of these current frames on public reasoning and policy attitudes?
  • How can this issue be reframed to evoke a different way of thinking, one that reveals alternative policy choices?
  • What are the larger values within which this issue should be framed?

Word

In trying to communicate any complex message to Public effectively, it is crucial to understand how your target population is likely to filter what are you trying to communicate and how they view that topic. Now, based on that information, you would decide which frames of reference (FoR) are best available and suited in public discourse, mass communication and media coverage. Never forget to pay attention to how your message resonates or conflicts with their views, social identifies, or religious and cultural values.

[i] Beachum L. The psychopathology of cinema: how mental illness and psychotherapy are portrayed in film.

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Dr. Aisha Sanober Chachar

Dr. Aisha Sanober Chachar

Consultant Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist; Co-founder & Director @synapsepk Mental Health Entrepreneur. Recycled Stardust.Balint Group.Psychoanalysis.Grit 🇵🇰