Currently viewing the tag: "mental health"

Feb. 1, 2018

Staff reporter

Ann Rauhala, associate professor of journalism at Ryerson University. (Courtesy of the Ryerson School of Journalism)

Ryerson journalism students are participating in a study investigating whether mindfulness and meditation can help them cope better with the stresses of the job.

A four-week course led by associate professor Ann Rauhala and assistant professor Lisa Taylor, both from the School of Journalism, will introduce student journalists to mindfulness strategies for dealing with the anxiety arising from interviewing and may also help participants handle the stresses of deadlines and career uncertainty.

“I became really concerned about the pain and suffering I was seeing among our students,” said Rauhala, who is also the teaching chair for the Faculty of Communication and Design. “People becoming so anxious about their future and depressed about their possibilities and not enjoying themselves. What [journalists] do is important and it is good to have the clarity and resilience to keep on pursuing the truth when everyone is insulting and berating you.”

The mindfulness class will introduce students to the fundamentals of mindfulness, review the scientific evidence of its benefits and explore different forms of meditation practice. The 15 participants will complete a pre-course questionnaire that is a well-established general anxiety assessment tool. At the end of the course, participants will do the assessment again and they will also be asked about the course content, including questions about which skills and exercises they found most or least helpful, and the degree to which they are likely to continue to practice mindfulness meditation.

In addition to attending the one-hour class once per week, students are being asked to meditate every day for 10 minutes and to record their experiences in a log. The classes, which will begin with a short meditation, will be a place for participants to talk about their efforts to meditate during the previous week and discuss the challenges of developing a meditation practice.

Lisa Taylor, assistant professor of journalism at Ryerson University. (Peter Bregg)

Taylor says the goal is to help participants regulate their anxiousness: “Some degree of stress is healthy for journalists. Stress is what lights a fire under us to go out the door to get our interviews and what compels us to meet our deadlines.” The key, she said, is to regulate this state of arousal so that instead of being paralyzed by fear, individuals experience a healthy level of anxiety that makes them energetic and focused.

Mindfulness stimulates creativity

Rauhala said research on mindfulness shows it has the potential to benefit students in their journalism practice and in life in general.

“Mindfulness helps you manage your time better because you’re not wasting time on diversions,” Rauhala said. “It helps you to manage your response to situations that are frustrating such as someone cancelling an interview or working with a difficult person.”

She said the research also suggests that mindfulness practices can boost creativity in a way that would potentially benefit journalists as they go about their work: “It stimulates looking at things from different angles. It quiets the mind so that you can listen to what people are saying instead of barreling along with what you think the story is … It helps you to be more empathetic and understand where people are coming from and they will therefore have better sources, better interviews and get better stories.”

Students at Ryerson are quickly immersed in journalism and, by the second week of classes, they are interviewing strangers on the streets of Toronto. Taylor says the students in her first-year reporting class tell her about levels of anxiety that she seldom heard about 10 years ago when she came to Ryerson.

“More students were saying they freeze up when they interview or get stressed over deadlines,” Taylor said. “You can only help a student to a certain point by teaching them to write a cutline or take a photo…At some point you have to look carefully at the challenges they face in their daily lives and their anxiety.”

To help students be more positive, she said, participants in the study will record one or two things they are grateful for each day: “In our lives as humans it is very easy to focus on what goes wrong, not what goes right,” Taylor said. “As journalists, because of the very nature of what constitutes news, we are often deeply immersed in negative, unhappy stories. So if anyone needs to be pushed to see the goodness and the light in the day, it’s a journalist.”

January 30, 2018

Staff reporter

Gavin Adamson, an associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism, is working with a group of researchers aiming to improve media coverage of mental illness in Chile and Mexico. (Photo via Ryerson School of Journalism)

Ryerson journalism professor Gavin Adamson is part of a team that will be sharing best practices for reporting on mental health issues with researchers in Mexico and Chile.

The Canadian researchers were recently awarded a $20,000 Canadian Institutes of Health grant for the project Reducing Mental Illness Stigma in Latin America: Dissemination and Planning, which aims to counter negative perceptions of mental illness created by the news media.

Adamson, a co-investigator on the project, will be overseeing production and research in Toronto and working alongside his long-time research collaborator Robert Whitley, an assistant professor of psychiatry at McGill University. Whitley, who has been examining reporting on mental illness by the Canadian news media since 2005, has noted improvements in the coverage. He has produced the Mindset Guide on best practices for reporting on mental illness and an online course for journalists. The two initiatives, dubbed the “Canadian Model, ” explore how the news media contributes to negative impressions of people with a mental illness and provide tips for journalists on best practices for covering the issue.

Adamson, who will contribute expertise in media engagement and mental health journalism to the project, says evidence suggests that the guide has significantly improved the coverage around suicide reporting in Canada: “The coverage has focused less frequently on suicide methods and on blaming the affected people. Instead it has focused more on challenges around treating mental illness and identifying potential social supports.”

The result, he said, is reporting on mental illness by Canadian journalists that is much more sensitive, accurate and positive. Whitley’s research, for instance, has found that the number of newspaper articles about mental illness that are positive in tone almost doubled from 2005 to 2015, while the number of stories containing stigmatizing language fell by a third.

His research also suggests that stigma associated with mental health is high in Latin America, and that resources are not readily available for national anti-stigma campaigns. With the Canadian Institutes of Health Research grant, Whitley and the research team will travel to Santiago, Mexico and Concepción, Chile to present the Canadian Model to researchers.

“We’ll be able to describe previous Canadian action research that shows how helpful it can be to work with the media and with stakeholder organizations in addressing stigma rather than just analyzing text and identifying problems,” said Adamson.

Adamson said the Canadians the results of their Recovery Advocacy Documentary Action Research (RADAR) with their Latin American counterparts. RADAR provides people who have with mental illnesses the training and resources to create their own documentary films. The goal was to see if such videos challenge traditional media stereotypes about people who are mentally ill.

“In our research, people recovering from mental illness describe their own stories about their experiences by producing their own video,” Adamson said. “They describe the challenges they’ve had navigating the Canadian health system, for example, or challenges with social support systems, their experiences with recovery or with the police. The act of getting involved in telling their own stories may help.”

In addition to Adamson and Whitley, the research team includes scholars from Columbia University in New York and from universities and research institutes in Chile and Mexico.

Columbia University’s Franco Mascayano, a collaborator on the grant, conducted a systematic review of research papers and concluded that negative attitudes and prejudices toward mental disorders are prevalent in Latin America and that little has been done to address the problem.

Caption: Robert Whitley, an assistant professor of psychiatry, teaching at McGill University. (Photo by Jorge Gonzales)

“There is still a lack of resources for research,” said Whitley, who is leading the project. “The economies are improving but almost all countries in Latin America have an unstable economy. Over the past 10 or 20 years, these countries who were formerly dictatorships, have become democracies so the economy has improved incredibly and there is more freedom and money available in universities to do research on topics such as mental illness.”

Given this situation, Whitley says, the Canadian team will meet with mental health researchers and mental illness service-users in Mexico and Chile to outline what has been done in Canada and to hear from his Latin American counterparts as well: “I will listen to what they think about it– this will be a listening exercise. I do have something to contribute as I have done this study [in Canada] since 2005 but [Mexico and Chile] have a lot to contribute as well.”

Whitley will produce a research document that reviews past research related to mental illness, suggests initiatives aimed at reducing stigma in Mexico and Chile and discusses possible research questions and timelines.

The team will then lead a two-day workshop in Montreal to develop a research strategy and a focused plan to improve coverage of mental health issues by the media in the two countries.

Mexico and Chile were chosen for the project as they both have high rates of literacy, freedom of the press and widely-consumed media “Chile is one of the most developed countries and Mexico is moving up there but is less developed. We chose these countries because we saw opportunity,” Whitley said.

Staff Reporter

Luis de Estores, Suzanne Feldman and Rod Radford discuss creating short documentary films on mental illness and health. (Allison Ridgway)

Luis (who asked that only his first name be used due to privacy concerns), Suzanne Feldman and Rod Radford discuss creating short documentary films on mental illness. (Allison Ridgway)

Three Canadian researchers are giving people who’ve experienced mental illnesses the resources and training to make their own documentary films to see if such videos challenge traditional media stereotypes about people who are mentally ill.

So far, participants have created videos with substantially different themes and frameworks than the stories on mental illness usually found in mainstream media, said Ryerson journalism professor Gavin Adamson, one of three principal investigators for the Recovery Advocacy Documentary Research (RADAR) project.

“Intuitively, it looks like it’s a whole different shape and set of stories that are being produced – mostly (stories) about recovery, social assistance, treatment, challenges with the mental health system in Canada and provincially,” said Adamson, who is working on the four-year project with Rob Whitley of the McGill University psychiatry department and Kathy Sitter, a professor of social work at Memorial University.

“That’s not the same kind of issues you hear from mainstream journalism titles … predominantly they have articles about crime and violence. It’s usually police stories or court stories that reinforce the stigmatizing characteristics and that are a complete misrepresentation of what is happening in Canada on the streets”

Four RADAR films were premiered at the Ryerson School of Journalism earlier this month to an audience of around 50 people.

“People with mental illness want to be heard,” said first-time Suzanne Feldman, one of three participant filmmakers in Toronto.

“We’re here to encourage the truth to be known to people.”

In an interview after the films’ premier, McGill’s Whitley said one of the research aims was to see what happens if people with mental illness are given complete control over the storytelling process.

“If you go onto YouTube, you’ll find loads of documentaries about mental illness, but they’re all made by professional documentary filmmakers … That means [people with mental illnesses] are being represented by other people. They’d talk about them in the third-person. There’s not much out there that actually comes from the people themselves. That was my inspiration [for this research project] – to take out the middle man,” said Whitley.

RADAR began in October 2014, when the research group partnered with mental health-focused community organizations in Toronto, Montreal and Halifax to give clients the training and resources needed to make their own videos about mental illness. The project was borne of the  “participatory filmmaking” concept, wherein groups of people (often those who have traditionally been marginalized by mainstream media) are given the resources to make films about their experiences and communities instead of having films made about them by outsiders.

In each city, the research group used funds from a government grant to buy video equipment and editing software for mental health services clients and hire professional videographers to train the participants.

In Toronto, Feldman and her teammates Rod Radford and Luis, who asked that only his first name be used due to privacy concerns, produced four short documentaries on topics including the Ontario Disability Support Program, Mad Pride and the use of art in mental illness recovery.

“From a journalism perspective it’s interesting to compare the normal frames and themes that are inside mainstream media and compare those themes to the ones that recur in all of the films produced in the recovery centres,” said Adamson. He recently completed another study in which he examined the content of mainstream media articles dealing with mental health and how often they were shared across digital media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. He found that readers were 700 times more likely to share “positive” news stories about recovery and treatment than “negative” stories associating mental illness with crime and violence.

With 15 RADAR films completed and more underway, Whitley says they plan to show the videos to medical professionals, high school students, police services, social workers and other groups that work or are involved with people with mental illness. After each showing, the researchers pass out surveys to audience members to assess whether or not the films change viewers’ opinions about people with mental illness.

Feldman’s film, which explores how people with mental illnesses are marginalized by society, will also be shown at the upcoming Bluenose-Ability Film Festival in Nova Scotia.

If the researchers find that the films do help to fight stereotypes about people with mental illness, Whitley said he wants to expand the program to include more Canadian cities and create a toolkit to help mental health organizations form their own participatory video programs.

“A goal is to really counter the narrative that’s been put forward by the media that people with mental illness are violent, or lazy or useless people,” he said.

The researchers will also interview each participant after the project to assess whether or not the use of participatory video aided them in their own mental health recovery.

“It was really refreshing that [the filmmakers] were able to do as well as they did in such a short time,” said Derreck Roemer, a Gemini-award winning documentary filmmaker who was hired to train RADAR’s Toronto group in filmmaking.

Rod Radford, one of the Toronto filmmakers, said positive representations of people with mental illness can improve the public’s perception of mental illness and decrease the stigma that prevents people from seeking psychiatric help,

“Things are getting better, and people will look towards us – the psychiatric culture – to tell our stories,” said Radford. “We’re reaching out and explaining ourselves to people, and that’s good, because that communication makes things better.”

Staff Reporter

Gavin Adamson, journalism undergraduate program director, presenting his findings at Ryerson University on Sept. 12, 2016. (Jasmine Bala)

Gavin Adamson, journalism undergraduate program director, presenting his findings at Ryerson University on Sept. 12, 2016. Photo: Jasmine Bala

News stories that deal with mental health-related recovery and treatment are shared much more frequently than stories about mental health and violence, according to new research by a Ryerson University journalism professor.

The study by Gavin Adamson examined the content of articles dealing with mental health and how they were shared across digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

“There’s sort of this assumption that what bleeds leads in journalism,” said Adamson, who co-authored the report with McGill University’s Robert Whitley and Liam Donaldson, a research assistant at Ryerson. “It’s like this catchphrase. I don’t know who coined it, but it’s what the audience believes about journalism and it’s sometimes what journalists believe about journalism too.”

Adamson’s research, however, shows that this isn’t true where mental illness is involved. His examination of online news stories suggests that readers are less likely to share mental health-related stories about crime and violence than stories with a positive or neutral tone. The study finds that articles about recovery and treatment are shared 700 more times than other mental-health related stories.

Adamson said the violent themes that are often present in stories about mental illness are a concern for health researchers because the accounts can affect people who are ill.

“This type of story might prevent people from seeking treatment or even admitting [to having] problems,” he said. “It means that mental illness is a problem and something that you want to keep secret because it is stigmatizing.”

But Adamson says that people with mental illnesses are no more violent than the rest of the population.

“People with mental illness tend to be victims of crime more than their perpetrators,” he said. “Often these people live on the street and they’re the ones that are having the violence done to them. So, there’s a horrible irony in the effect of news, you know, because it just tells sort of the opposite story.”

Previous research has shown that the link between criminality and mental illness occurs in up to 50 per cent of all coverage of the topic, while less than 20 per cent of all stories deal with treatment and recovery. This remains true despite the results of Adamson’s study that suggest readers are less likely to share news articles that stigmatize mental illness.

Adamson said he does not know why the data turned up this way. A limit of the study is that he did not survey news readers about why they share what they share online.

But he speculates that readers are more likely to share recovery and treatment stories because many of them are directly affected by mental illness.

“It’s something that everyone cares about. They aren’t particularly inclined to be excited by bad news about people in distress and in acute phases of their mental illness where something horrible might happen,” he said, “but they are interested in sharing stories that communicate their sympathy about their own situations, about their family’s situations, about their friends’ situations. That is my hunch.”

The research team analyzed all the stories related to mental health that were generated by three different newsrooms in Canada between Nov. 13, 2014 and Nov. 13, 2015. To measure audience engagement, web-reading metrics such as time-on-page, page views, social sharing and referrals were considered.

Adamson argues that digital news is always changing and can be used as a way to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.

“Google adds these emergency services when you type in the word ‘suicide.’ Why can’t newsrooms?” he said. “Why can’t newsrooms have boiler plate sentences about mental health and mental illness? They can be put into the back end of their websites. WordPress could have a system where you could drop in basic background on mental health and mental illness into every news story that includes it.”