Mental Health and Marital Information In Three Newspaper Advice Columns

Tankard, Jr., James W.; Adelson, Rachel
December 1982
Journalism Quarterly;Winter82, Vol. 59 Issue 4, p592
Academic Journal
A content analysis was performed on the columns of Ann Landers, Abigail Van Buren and Joyce Brothers to determine whether they were perpetuating or refuting common misconceptions about the topics of mental health and marital problems. The columnists appear to be refuting the myths in both areas more than they are supporting them. In the area of mental health, 15.1% of the items supported myths and 15.6% refuted myths, but the percentage supporting myths drops to 4.5 if those items recommending professional counseling are not counted as supporting a myth. In the area of marriage, 7.7% of the items supported myths and 15.4% refuted myths. Concerning mental health, the messages that received the greatest emphasis by the columnists were that mental health problems are serious, that they are not hopeless but are treatable, and that for many problems one should seek professional help. Concerning marriage problems, the messages that received the greatest emphasis were that having children does not improve a potentially difficult marriage and that telling a spouse to go to hell—i.e., communicating one's feelings—is not a sign of a poor marriage. All of these are helpful messages that phychologists and marriage counselors endorse. Two of them—that mental illnesses are a serious health problem and that mental illness is treatable—correspond closely to recommendations put forth by the Mental Health Association and endorsed by the media task panel of the President's Commission on Mental Health. The rates of support for misconceptions found in this study are open in interpretation, but they do not indicate that the three major newspaper advice columnists are painting the extremely misleading picture that Nunnally, as well as Lederer and Jackson, suggest for the mass media in general. Perhaps greater amounts of misleading information about mental health and marriage are contained in other kinds of mass media content, such as television dramatic programs or locally written newspaper features.


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