Representations of health conditions in the UK and US press: A corpus linguistic approach

Ewan Hannaford

University of Glasgow

Mental and physical illness have traditionally been seen as distinct categories, but this division is now recognised by medical experts and health professionals as largely unhelpful and inaccurate. Medical experts now often encourage a more holistic approach to healthcare, whereby mental health conditions are treated as just another type of illness (RCP Report, 2010; Kolappa, et al., 2013). However, amongst the general public, mental illness remains highly stigmatised and viewed as distinct from physical illness (Kendell, 2001; Pescosolido, et al, 2010). Media representations have a large impact on public perceptions and significantly influence the prevalence of stigmas and stereotypes surrounding both traditionally physical and traditionally mental disorders (Wahl, 1995; Stuart, 2006; Young, Norman, & Humphreys, 2008). Differences in media coverage of such illnesses may therefore be contributing to the persistence of a societal distinction between 'physical' and 'mental' illness.

My research is investigating this using two regional corpora of UK and US press coverage, each spanning over 20 years and covering a range of disorders across the traditional physical/mental health spectrum. Through corpus linguistic analysis of these datasets, my work aims to uncover differences and similarities in the themes, topics, and attitudes present in different health condition discourses, and to identify the potential causes of these features. My talk will provide a brief background on my work and previous research into press representations of health conditions, before discussing my methodological approach and presenting some preliminary results from a recent pilot study I conducted. The implications of these pilot findings for my full study will then be explored, with a current update on the status of my research.


American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Kendell, R. (2001). The distinction between mental and physical illness. British Journal of Psychiatry 178. 490-493.

Kolappa, K., Henderson, D., & Kishore, S. (2013). No physical health without mental health: Lessons unlearned? Bulletin of the World Health Organisation 91:3. 3-3A.

Pescosolido, B., Martin, J., Long, J., Medina, T., Phelan, J., & Link, B. (2010). "A disease like any other"? A decade of change in public reactions to schizophrenia, depression, and alcohol dependence. American Journal of Psychiatry 167. 1321-1330.

Royal College of Psychiatrists. (2010). No Health Without Mental Health: The Supporting Evidence. RCP Report. Available from:

Stuart, H. (2006). Media portrayal of mental illness and its treatments: What effect does it have on people with mental illness? CNS Drugs 20:2. 99-106.

Wahl, O. (1995). Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Young, M., Norman, G., & Humphreys, K. (2008). Medicine in the popular press: The influence of the media on perceptions of disease. PloS ONE 3:10. E3552. Available from:

Week 4 2019/2020

Thursday 31st October 2019

Charles Carter A18