Desirable and undesirable differentness : Exploring representations of people with schizophrenia in the British tabloids and broadsheets

James Balfour

LAEL, Lancaster University

Widespread stigma towards people with schizophrenia and its negative impact on patient outcomes has long been documented (e.g. Wing, 1978). Over the last couple of decades, researchers in psychiatry and health studies have increasingly drawn attention to the role played by the British press in reproducing intolerant and inaccurate representations of people with schizophrenia in the British media, with many studies pointing to the British tabloids as a particular area of concern (e.g. Bowen et al., 2019; Clement & Foster, 2008). While insightful, previous studies have typically had a narrow focus. For instance, they have tended to focus on similarities between the tabloid and broadsheets' reportage over differences, with the result that they tend to dwell on the ubiquity of the topic of 'violence' over other topics. This research has also had more to say about the sensationalist reporting style in the tabloids over representations in the broadsheets.

In this talk, I discuss findings from a keyword analysis carried out as part of a larger project which examines representation of schizophrenia in the British national press between 2000 and 2015 using corpus-based techniques. By conducting a contrastive keyword analysis, I discover distinctive lexis in either subcorpus, which provides insights into the unique topics which the tabloids and broadsheets associate with people with schizophrenia. The analysis reveals a more detailed and nuanced picture than previous studies account for. While it is true that the tabloids provide sensationalistic stories that represent people with schizophrenia as violent criminals, they moreover dwell on issues of problematised agency, blame and retribution as a distinctive feature of their reporting. In contrast, keywords in the broadsheets point towards a more nuanced and positive picture, with people with schizophrenia being represented as artists and creative thinkers, as a distinctive feature of their reporting. I conclude by linking these findings with Goffman's (1963) definition of stigma as a perception 'undesired differentness' whereby the broadsheets represent people with schizophrenia in terms of 'desired differentness' and tabloids in terms of 'undesirable differentness'. I then discuss some of the potential wider implications these representations have on the lived experience of the disorder.

For more information about the project, see:


Bowen, M., Kinderman, P. & Cooke, A. (2019). Stigma: A linguistic analysis of the UK red-top tabloids press' representation of schizophrenia. Perspectives in Public Health, 139(3), 147-152. doi:10.1177/1757913919835858

Clement, S. and Foster, N. (2008). Newspaper reporting on schizophrenia: A content analysis of five national newspapers at two time points. Schizophrenia Research, 98(1), 178-183. doi:10.1016/j.schres.2007.09.028

Goffman, E. (1990). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (Original work published in 1963).

Wing, J. K. (1978). Schizophrenia: towards a new synthesis. London: Academic Press.

Week 27 2019/2020

Thursday 4th June 2020

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