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 Table of Contents  
ORIGINAL ARTICLE
Year : 2020  |  Volume : 25  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 128-132

COVID-19 and mental health through the eyes of Indian newspapers


1 Department of Psychiatry, Punjab Institute of Medical Sciences, Jalandhar, Punjab, India
2 Doaba Hospital, Jalandhar, Punjab, India

Date of Submission19-Jun-2020
Date of Decision12-Jul-2020
Date of Acceptance19-Sep-2020
Date of Web Publication23-Feb-2021

Correspondence Address:
Gulbahar Singh Sidhu
Doaba Hospital, Lajpat Nagar, Jalandhar, Punjab
India
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/jmhhb.jmhhb_63_20

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  Abstract 


Context: COVID-19 poses challenges to both physical and mental health of the patients, their loved ones, the health-care providers, and the people at large. It has been pointed out that the prime reason behind this is the bombardment of information ranging from accurate to exaggerated to grossly incorrect by the media. Aims: We aimed to assess the nature and extent of the coverage pertaining to mental health and COVID 19 in the print media. Subjects and Methods: In our prospective study, all print items related to the mental health aspects of COVID-19 published in a national daily, The Hindu and a regional daily, The Tribune were included. Results: A low percentage of the total print items related to COVID-19 pertained to the mental health aspects in both newspapers. Most of the print items appeared on the inner pages. Anxiety was the most common mental health problem mentioned, followed by depression and fear for one's own safety. Yoga, meditation, other forms of physical exercise, contacting helplines, and talking to people were the most commonly suggested ways to manage mental health problems. The opinion of a mental health professional was sought in only 13.33% of the print items in The Tribune, whereas the corresponding figure for The Hindu was 65%. Conclusions: We found that the coverage was less extensive as compared to the reported prevalence of mental health problems associated with COVID-19. Our findings underscore the need for more exhaustive and widespread reporting of mental health problems associated with the pandemic.

Keywords: COVID-19, mental health, newspaper coverage


How to cite this article:
Gul D, Sidhu GS. COVID-19 and mental health through the eyes of Indian newspapers. J Mental Health Hum Behav 2020;25:128-32

How to cite this URL:
Gul D, Sidhu GS. COVID-19 and mental health through the eyes of Indian newspapers. J Mental Health Hum Behav [serial online] 2020 [cited 2021 Mar 6];25:128-32. Available from: https://www.jmhhb.org/text.asp?2020/25/2/128/309972




  Introduction Top


COVID-19 continues its relentless spread across the globe ever since its first case was identified and confirmed in the Chinese city of Wuhan on December 2019.[1] As on June 12, 2020, 428,210 people have died from the disease so far and 7,732,948 people all over the world are infected.[2] The corresponding figures for India stand at 8890 and 309,603 people, respectively.[2] COVID-19 poses challenges to the patients, their loved ones, the health-care providers, and the people at large, on two fronts, the physical and the mental. Recent researches from around the world have revealed an increasing incidence of numerous emotional outcomes including stress, depression, irritability, insomnia, fear, confusion, anger, frustration, boredom, and stigma associated with quarantine, some of which persisted after the quarantine was lifted and suicide.[3]

It has been pointed out that the prime reason behind this is the bombardment of information ranging from accurate to exaggerated to grossly incorrect by the media. The director-general of the World Health Organization has referred this as “coronavirus infodemic,” which is breeding fright and panic by laying out unchecked mind-boggling rumors, flamboyant news propaganda, and sensationalism.[4] This is an important aspect because by focusing news coverage on certain topics, the news media influence which issues audiences deem important and in need of public policy response (agenda setting). By highlighting certain aspects of issues, the news media can influence public opinion about and preferred solutions to societal problems (known as “issue framing”).[5],[6]

We aimed to assess the nature and extent of the coverage pertaining to mental health and COVID-19 in the print media. We chose to include the newspapers in our study because even in the era of the Internet, print media are still among the most frequently identified sources of mental health information across the world.[7]

This study tries to answer the following research questions:

  1. What has been the extent of coverage of mental health aspects of COVID-19 in Indian newspapers?
  2. What is the nature of coverage of the aspects related to mental health of this pandemic?
  3. How does the nature and extent of coverage compare between a national and a regional newspaper?



  Subjects and Methods Top


This was a prospective study conducted over a period of 93 days, from March 11, 2020 (the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic) to June 11, 2020. During this time period, all print items pertaining to the mental health aspects of COVID-19 were collected from the following two newspapers:

  1. THE Hindu, a national English language daily, with an average readership of 6,226,000[8]
  2. THE Tribune, a leading English language regional daily of North India, with an average readership of 1,647,000.[8]


Both of these newspapers were chosen as they are reputed to be highly responsible newspapers at the national and regional level, respectively.

At the same time, a total number of print items pertaining to COVID-19 were counted daily for both the aforementioned newspapers.

The two papers were scanned separately by the two authors on a daily basis, and then each paper was again cross-scanned by the two authors to ensure that all related news stories were included in our analysis. No predefined checklist or tool was used. The print items so collected were analyzed by the two authors, and the results were tabulated. The data collected were analyzed using appropriate statistical methods such as percentages and averages.


  Results Top


A total of 2296 print items from The Tribune related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, out of which 15 (0.65%) pertained to the mental health aspects of COVID-19. The Hindu carried 1804 print items related to the pandemic, out of which 20 (1.10%) related to its mental health aspects [Table 1].
Table 1: Proportion of COVID-19 coverage related to mental health

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As regards the type of coverage, news reports formed the major part in both the newspapers (66.67% in The Tribune and 50% in The Hindu). Nearly 35% of the coverage was in the form of an article in The Hindu. The corresponding figure for The Tribune was lower at 20%. No editorial appeared in either of the newspapers pertaining to the mental health aspects of COVID-19 during the period of the study [Table 2].
Table 2: The type of coverage

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As regards the placement of the coverage [Table 3], most of the print items in both the newspapers appeared on the inner pages though the percentage was much higher for The Tribune as compared to The Hindu (86.67 vs. 55.00). The placement of the coverage was much more widespread in The Hindu with print items also appearing on the front page, the back page, the editorial page, the magazine section as well as the sports page.
Table 3: Placement of the coverage

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We found a wide array of mental health problems finding a mention in both the newspapers depicted in [Table 4]. Anxiety was the most common mental health problem mentioned in both the newspapers, followed by depression, stress, and fear for one's own safety and that of the others. Suicide and feeling of loneliness were the other mental health problems finding a more frequent mention in The Hindu.
Table 4: Reported mental health problems associated with COVID-19

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We came across an exhaustive and interesting list of suggested ways to manage the mental health problems associated with COVID-19 in both the newspapers [Table 5]. According to The Tribune, yoga, meditation, and other forms of physical exercise were the most commonly suggested ways, followed by seeking the help of the mental health phone helplines and keeping well informed about the pandemic. Contacting helplines for mental health problems was the most frequently suggested way in The Hindu, followed by talking to people including participating in virtual meetings.
Table 5: Suggested ways to manage mental health problems

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The opinion of a mental health professional was sought in only 13.33% of the print items in The Tribune, while the corresponding figure for The Hindu was 65% [Table 6]. Hence, the majority of print items that appeared in The Hindu carried the opinion of a mental health professional.
Table 6: Whether a mental health professional is quoted

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The number of suggested ways to manage mental health problems mentioned above is more than the total number of news reports pertaining to the mental health aspects of COVID-19 as some of the news reports mentioned more than one mental health problem.


  Discussion Top


The print media and mental health share a rather topsy-turvy relationship. It has been widely suggested that the stigma that surrounds mental illnesses and the mentally ill owes its existence, to a large extent, to their negative and inaccurate depictions in the print media.[9]

The world confronts an entirely new challenge today that of the novel coronavirus pandemic. It is an illness which is associated with fear, anxiety, depression, and suicide which is, to a large extent, attributed to the sensationalized reporting of the pandemic in the newspapers. However, there are no published reports of depictions of mental illness in print media during this pandemic, both in India and the rest of the world.

We also searched for a similar study carried out during the recent epidemics of severe acute respiratory syndrome and Middle-East respiratory syndrome in 2003 and 2012, respectively, but were not able to find any.

The proportion of the print items pertaining to the mental health aspects of COVID-19 as compared to the overall coverage of the pandemic is abysmally low in both the newspapers (0.65% in The Tribune and 1.10% in The Hindu). This is particularly disappointing if we consider the high prevalence of problems related to mental health not only in patients diagnosed as suffering from COVID-19 but also among the caregivers, health-care personnel, and the population at large. The probable reason is the greater attention paid by the print media to the number of those infected, to the economic implications of an extended lockdown, and the associated political rhetoric. The low percentage obtained in the study reflects the low priority given to the issues related to mental health with respect to COVID-19. The percentage of coverage related to mental health in one earlier study was found out to be 20.76.[10] The representation of mental health problems in the newspapers has been consistently reported as low if we consider their widespread prevalence in the general population.[11],[12]

The coverage of the aspects related to the mental health was, to a large part, confined to the inner pages, more so in The Tribune, the regional daily (86.67% in The Tribune vs. 55% in The Hindu). Our findings are in agreement with the earlier studies so far as the placement of news related to mental health is concerned.[11],[13] This, too, is deplorable in the light of the emerging evidence. This fact becomes all the more glaring if we consider the fact that the news related to COVID-19 continued to hog the front pages of the two newspapers during the time period of the study.

The percentage of the print items, wherein a mental health professional was quoted, is also low in both the newspapers, though The Hindu appears to do better in this regard as compared to The Tribune. This finding is in consonance with the earlier studies carried out both in India and the rest of the world, wherein the percentage of news items, in which the opinion of a mental health professional was sought, has varied from 15% to 33.33%.[2],[11],[14] We would like to emphasize that the earlier studies investigated the coverage of mental health problems in general in different newspapers rather than focusing on only one particular illness.

Both the newspapers appear to do a lot better when it comes to the nature of mental health problems faced by the patients, their caregivers, and the general population. The list of mental health problems mentioned in the coverage and their frequency of occurrence is in broad agreement with the available data.[6],[15]


  Conclusions Top


In our prospective study, we included all print items related to the mental health aspects of COVID-19 published in a English language national daily, The Hindu and a English language regional daily, The Tribune. In comparison to the widespread overall coverage of COVID-19, the aspects related to mental health formed a very small proportion. However, within this limited coverage, a reasonably wide range of mental health problems found a mention with anxiety was the most common mental health problem, followed by depression, stress, and fear for one's own safety and that of the others. Yoga, meditation, and other forms of physical exercise, and contacting helplines for mental health problems were the most frequently suggested ways to deal with the mental health problems. The opinion of a mental health professional was sought more frequently in the national newspaper included in our study. Our findings underscore the need for more exhaustive and widespread reporting of mental health problems associated with the pandemic along with the opinion of a mental health professional. This study has a sensitization value and should serve as the foundation for more extensive study in the time to come. The paper is the first of its kind which has brought forth the nature and extent of mental health issues related to COVID-19. It could be the first step toward formulating a set of guidelines for reporting issues related to mental health in the print media.

The paper is of immense importance to the community mental health as a responsible, accurate, and extensive reporting of mental health issues would lead to a well-informed society less gullible to fake news and less susceptible to fear, anxiety, and depression.

Limitations of the study:

  1. The data collected are limited to only two newspapers and were collected over a duration of 93 days. Hence, a longer study which includes more number of newspapers is advocated
  2. A comparison with the coverage of aspects related to mental health with the newspapers published from the countries which are worse affected and the countries where the incidence and prevalence of COVID-19 is low, is in order, and would throw valuable light on this, hitherto, ignored question
  3. None of the vernacular language newspapers were included in the study.


Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

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2.
Brooks SK, Webster RK, Smith LE, Woodland L, Wessely S, Greenberg N, et al. The psychological impact of quarantine and how to reduce it: Rapid review of the evidence. Lancet 2020;395:912-20.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
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Zarocostas J. How to fight an infodemic. Lancet 2020;395:676.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
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Scheufele DA, Tewksbury D. Framing, agenda setting, and priming: The evolution of three media effects models. J Commun 2007;57:9-20.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
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McCombs M. Agenda setting function of mass media. Public Relat Rev 1977;3:89-95.  Back to cited text no. 5
    
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Nawková L, Nawka A, Adámková T, Rukavina TV, Holcnerová P, Kuzman MR, et al. The picture of mental health/illness in the printed media in three Central European countries. J Health Commun 2012;17:22-40.  Back to cited text no. 6
    
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Wahl OF. Media Madness: Public Images of Mental Illness. Piscataway, NJ, US: University Press; 1995.  Back to cited text no. 8
    
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Chen M, Lawrie S. Newspaper depictions of mental and physical health. BJ Psych Bull 2017;41:308-13.  Back to cited text no. 9
    
10.
Mohandass B, Kaur M, Kaur H. The extent and nature of coverage of mental health issues in printed media in India. Indian J Psychiatry 2019;61:486-90.  Back to cited text no. 10
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
11.
Biliæ B, Georgaca E. Representations of “mental illness” in Serbian newspapers: A critical discourse analysis. Qual Res Psychol 2007;4:167-86.  Back to cited text no. 11
    
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Whitley R, Wang J. Good news? A longitudinal analysis of newspaper portrayals of mental illness in Canada 2005 to 2015. Can J Psychiatry 2017;62:278-85.  Back to cited text no. 12
    
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Whitley R, Berry S. Trends in newspaper coverage of mental illness in Canada: 2005-2010. Can J Psychiatry 2013;58:107-12.  Back to cited text no. 13
    
14.
Shrivastava S, Kalra G, Ajinkya S. People see what papers show! Psychiatry's stint with print media: A pilot study from Mumbai, India. Indian J Psychiatry 2015;57:407-11.  Back to cited text no. 14
[PUBMED]  [Full text]  
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Huang Y, Zhao N. Generalized anxiety disorder, depressive symptoms and sleep quality during COVID-19 outbreak in China: A web-based cross-sectional survey. Psychiatry Res 2020;288:112954.  Back to cited text no. 15
    



 
 
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  [Table 1], [Table 2], [Table 3], [Table 4], [Table 5], [Table 6]



 

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