TRIGGER WARNING – This blog post pertains to sexual assault.
I recently came across a news article that links back to our discussion of entertainment education. It notes that a study published in the Journal of Health Communication found that frequent viewers of Law & Order, CSI, or NCIS “are more likely to help prevent sexual assault or intervene if they have the opportunity”. The study authors document a shift in how sexual assault has been portrayed in television crime dramas. While story-lines that placed blame on the survivor were common in the late 1980s and early 1990s, more recent analyses have focused on debunking such “victim-blaming” and have included instances of bystander intervention.
The study is grounded in the integrative model of behavioural prediction, which holds that the likelihood of an individual performing a certain action is dependent upon their attitudes toward performing said behaviour, perceived norms about the behaviour, and perceived self-efficacy to carry out the behaviour. In the context of the study, the authors defined the behaviour as “taking action before or during a sexual assault or by speaking out against attitudes that support sexual violence” (Banyard et al., 2007 in Hust et al., 2012, p.107). Given that norms may vary according to setting the researchers controlled for beliefs that seemed likely to influence bystander intervention: rape myth acceptance, perception of social norms and peer expectations. A detailed explanation of how the researchers defined these variables is provided in the article. After controlling for these factors the authors found that “exposure to crime dramas was positively associated with intentions to intervene. Exposure to primetime crime dramas explained .7% more variance after considering all previous predictors” (Hust et al., 2012, p.118). Although this might not seem like much, it is important to consider that these cases differ somewhat from the case-studies of entertainment education highlighted in class. Most notably, they did not occur in the context of a planned health communication intervention and were not based on a specific methodology (cf. The Sabido Method). They raise the possibility of planned and coordinated health messaging in primetime crime dramas, which may prove more effective. Hust et al. (2012, p.119) argue that “larger effect sizes may be generated by exposure to crime dramas that have a greater focus on sexual violence” as well by the frequency with which individuals watch said programs.
This study has some obvious limitations. It only addresses sexual assaults that occur in a public or otherwise communal space. Most serious sexual assaults occur in private, where intervention by a third party is unlikely. Furthermore, the study participants were drawn from freshmen university students living in residence. This may limit the generalizability of the study’s findings to the broader population. However, the choice of sample does not seem unwise given concerns about sexual assault on university campuses.
The publication of this study is, unfortunately, timely in light of recent cases that have seen much attention in the media. The sexual assaults that took place in Steubenville and in Cole Harbour occurred at parties and communal gatherings, the very sort of contexts cited in the study. Although we must make comprehensive efforts at combatting the rape culture that enables perpetrators of sexual assault and shames survivors, the potential for entertainment education to play a role is cause for some hope.
Hust, S. J., Marett, E. G., Lei, M., Chang, H., Ren, C., McNab, A. L., & Adams, P. M. (2013). Health Promotion Messages in Entertainment Media: Crime Drama Viewership and Intentions to Intervene in a Sexual Assault Situation. Journal of Health Communication, 18(1), 105-123.
(Stomping out Mental Health Stigma, NHS)
In his 2010 TED Talk, Andrew Steward describes his experience with schizophrenia stating, “when someone breaks an arm we write all over their cast, but when someone suffers from mental problems we run the other way.” According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), one in five people under the age of 65 will experience some sort of mental illness. Enormous stigma, judgment and discrimination are associated with mental illness. Despite the fact that mental illness is so widespread the public appears to have very little understanding about mental illness. CMHA lists and dispute the top 10 myths Canadians hold surrounding mental illnesses. All of the following are incorrect and do not take into account the complexity of mental illness (please see the CMHA website for more details).
Myth #1: Mental illness means that guy is crazy; he isn’t really sick.
Myth #2: Addictions to drugs and alcohol are the result of a lack of willpower.
Myth #3: Mentally ill people have lower intelligence and are poorer than the rest of the population.
Myth #4: Bad parenting causes mental illness.
Myth #5: People with mental illnesses are violent and dangerous.
Myth #6: If a person has schizophrenia, they have multiple personalities.
Myth #7: Electrical shock therapy is like torture. It is inhumane, outdated and completely ineffective.
Myth #8: Once you are diagnosed with a mental illness, you are crazy for the rest of your life.
Myth #9: All people get depressed, as they grow older; it is part of the aging process.
Myth #10: People with a mental illness cannot hold down a job.
Where do all these misunderstandings stem from?
One answer is the media. A recent Canadian review of a number of academic studies concluded five powerful things:
- The mass media is the public’s main source of information about mental illness.
- The information presented by the media about mental illness are often stereotypes that are negative and wrong.
- Negative public attitudes of mental health are connected to negative media portrayals.
- Negative media portrayals directly and negatively affect those living with mental illness.
- Government responses to mental health issues are connected to negative media portrayals of mental illness.
Media has also been using its power for good.
Various ad campaigns, tv shows movies, and film have begun addressing the stigma of mental illness by presenting realistic portrayals of mental illness. Below are a couple of British advertisements addressing the stigma surrounding mental illness and these types of public myths in humorous ways.
United Kingdom Government Public Service Announcement (60 sec):
Time to Change (61 sec):
In TV, an approach called Entertainment Education (EE) has begun to be used to portray mental illness and its treatment in realistic ways. EE is described as “entertainment with social benefits” by its creator Miguel Sabido (Baker, 2005) and has been outlined in a number previous blog posts within this blog by my colleagues.
There has been limited research linking the positive effects of the media on a public beliefs and attitudes about mental illness. However, a 2009 study demonstrated the positive effects of a “multimedia outreach effort to youth dealing with bi-polar disorder” using an EE in a series of episodes on the popular show 902010.
This success suggests that EE can be effectively used to combat the negative impact of media on the public’s understandings of mental illness. In 2005, an American organization called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) began recognizing “consumer/peer leaders and TV and film professionals who educate the public about the real experiences of people [struggling with mental health conditions]” with their Voice Award program. The 902010 bi-polar story line referred to above won a SAMHSA Voice award in 2009. The following TV shows were recipients of SAMHSA Voice Awards in 2012 for their realistic portrayals of mental illness showing us that media can be part of the solution in the fight against mental health stigma
- Castle – Season 4 Episode 9 “ Kill Shot”
- Glee – Season 3 Episode 14 “On My Way”
- Homeland – Season 1 Episode 11 “ The Vest”
- Law & Order: SVU – Season 13 Episode 1 “Personal Fouls”
- Necessary Roughness – (The entire series)
- Parenthood – Season 3 Episodes 5-9
References not linked to:
Barker K. Sex, soap, and social change: The Sabido methodology. Haider, M., ed. In: Global Public Health Communication: Challenges, Perspectives, and Strategies. Sudbury, Massachusetts, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2005. p. 113-154.