02 – Personal or professional, language matters

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‘Living Well’ Report Infographic generated by NSW Mental Health Commission [2014a].
Of the various scholarly articles read on the issue of mental health, the three I have focused on specifically discuss its portrayal in mass media, as well as its researched links to criminality. Each takes an investigative approach, either developing their own research or collating and comparing the efforts of others. All three also stipulate the limitations of their findings, whether due to the data being selective, incomparable or dated. This conveys a high regard for objectivity, along with a sense of responsibility not to further accentuate existing stigmas and inaccuracies.

Each author strongly positions themselves as seekers of knowledge and greater understanding, their work is clearly informed by their various academic and research based backgrounds in the field of mental health. Uniquely Huxter, [2013] who is a registered psychiatric nurse, immediately clarifies the paper as fitting within the realm of discourse, and the writing style shifts from fairly objective and academic to incredibly emotive language. For example, “One of the more disparate and outrageous examples of inequities in public health has been an insidious trend towards criminalising mental illness, and the largely unjust treatment of many mentally ill persons.” [Huxter 2013 p.735] Huxter’s profession gives him extensive experience with the daily impacts of mental illness on the individual, providing perspective for his seemingly more impassioned approach to writing on the topic.

An interesting comparison drawn from these sources has been their varied approaches to defining mental illness. Hodgins makes the choice to clearly state the term as referring to “schizophrenia, major depression, bipolar disorder, atypical (non-toxic) psychosis and delusional disorder.” [Hodgins 1998 p.S29]. Whilst Adeponle et al. [2015] were careful to form a provisional list of search terms relating to mental illness, concluding that the four search terms ‘mental health’, ‘mental illness’, ‘schizophrenia’ and ‘schizophrenic’ were conclusive enough to garner accurate results of any media mentions of the topic. Although Huxter [2013], while mentioning several different definitions for intellectual disability, does not make any attempt to clarify what is meant by mental illness when referenced in his paper. Thus it became apparent that a key element to interpreting the findings of such investigations lay in first clarifying each author’s individual definition of mental health. Had Hodgins been unclear, people suffering from anxiety and eating disorders would also have been understood to be likely to devolve into criminality at some point in their life.

It is unhelpful and problematic for writer’s to use the terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ as broad, all-encompassing states of being. It would be considered inconceivable to compare a paper cut to a compound fracture, or a bruise to leukaemia. Yet throughout media and scholarly articles it remains commonplace for all manners of mental abnormalities to be referred to as one.

NSWMHC A matter of justice_infographic 1
‘Living Well’ Report Infographic generated by NSW Mental Health Commission [2014b].
References

Adeponle, A., Miller, A.R., Whitley, R. 2015, ‘Comparing gendered and generic representations of mental illness in Canadian newspapers: an exploration of the chivalry hypothesis’, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, vol.50, issue 2, p.325-333, viewed 7 August 2016, <http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/ehost/detail/detail?sid=840ea29d-b8c4-45fa-8478-f8f5efa1915e%40sessionmgr105&vid=0&hid=116&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=24923412&db=mnh>

Hodgins, S. 1998, ‘Epidemiological investigations of the associations between major mental disorders and crime: methodological limitations and validity of the conclusions’, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, vol.33, issue 1, pp.S29-37, viewed 7 August 2016, <http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/ehost/detail/detail?sid=76e178df-ee43-4c6c-a490-2bd667fa7a34%40sessionmgr4007&vid=0&hid=4214&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=9857777&db=mnh>

Huxter, M.J. 2013, ‘Prisons: the psychiatric institution of last resort?’ Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing, vol.20 issue 8, pp.735-743, viewed 12 August 2016, <http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.lib.uts.edu.au/ehost/detail/detail?sid=b06f078f-a236-45a8-b37f-66eb85c62bb4%40sessionmgr4010&vid=0&hid=4104&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=89865098&db=a2h>

NSW Mental Health Commission 2014a, ‘Living Well: Putting people at the centre of mental health reform in NSW. A matter of justice infographic 3. Sydney’, NSW Mental Health Commission, viewed 15 August 2016, <http://nswmentalhealthcommission.com.au/news/galleries/living-well-report-infographics/mental-health-and-the-justice-system-infographic-3>

NSW Mental Health Commission 2014b, ‘Living Well: Putting people at the centre of mental health reform in NSW. A matter of justice infographic 1. Sydney’, NSW Mental Health Commission, viewed 15 August 2016, <http://nswmentalhealthcommission.com.au/news/galleries/living-well-report-infographics/mental-health-and-the-justice-system-infographic-1>

 

– Alexandra Macoustra