Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology

, Volume 50, Issue 2, pp 325–333 | Cite as

Comparing gendered and generic representations of mental illness in Canadian newspapers: an exploration of the chivalry hypothesis

  • Rob WhitleyEmail author
  • Ademola Adeponle
  • Anna Rose Miller
Original Paper



The ‘chivalry hypothesis’ posits that woman are treated more compassionately by the media when compared with men. To our knowledge, no research study has explored the chivalry hypothesis as applied to people with mental illness. As such, we set out to compare three types of newspaper articles, those that focus on (1) mental illness generically; (2) a woman with mental illness; and (3) a man with mental illness.


We conducted a content analysis of 1,168 newspaper articles relating to mental health over 6 months. We obtained articles through media retrieval software using various search terms. We read and coded articles for the presence or absence of themes and content. Frequency counts and proportions were generated for each theme, which were compared across the three types of articles using Chi-square tests.


Generic articles were more positive than articles about individuals. They were significantly more likely to quote mental health experts, and have recovery, inadequate resources, and etiology as themes. Articles that depicted men were significantly more likely to have stigmatizing content and violence as themes. Articles depicting women were significantly more likely to quote mental health experts, discuss mental health interventions, and have recovery and inadequate resources as themes.


The findings lend some support to the chivalry hypothesis, in as much as articles about women were significantly more positive. Articles about men were significantly more negative, though this may be partially accounted for by elevated rates of violent crime in men. Generic articles were the most extensively well informed.


Media Mental illness Gender Canada Chivalry hypothesis Newspaper 



We would like to thank Health Canada and the Mental Health Commission of Canada for funding the study. We would like to especially thank Romie Christie and Mike Pietrus from the Commission’s ‘Opening Minds’ anti-stigma initiative for unfailing support throughout the project.

Conflict of interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. 1.
    Carney T, Louw J (2006) Eating disordered behaviors and media exposure. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 41:957–966PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. 2.
    Stuart H (2006) Media portrayals of mental illness and its treatments: what effect does it have on people with mental illness. CNS Drugs 20:99–106PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Dietrich S, Heider D, Matschinger H, Angermeyer MC (2006) Influence of newspaper reporting on adolescents’ attitudes toward people with mental illness. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 41:318–322PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Corrigan PW, Powell JK, Micheals PJ (2013) The effects of news stories on the stigma of mental illness. J Nerv Ment Dis 201(3):179–182PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Wahl OF (1992) Mass media images of mental illness: a review of the literature. J Community Psychiatry 1992(20):343–352Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Boke O, Aker S, Aker AA, Sarisoy G, Sahin AR (2007) Schizophrenia in Turkish newspapers. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 42:457–461PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    Thornicroft A, Goulden R, Shelfer G et al (2013) Newspaper coverage of mental illness in England 2008–2011. Br J Psychiatry 202:s64–s69CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Whitley R, Berry S (2013) Trends in newspaper coverage of mental illness in Canada: 2005–2010. Can J Psychiatry 58(2):107–112PubMedGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Van Dorn R, Volavka J, Johnson N (2012) Mental disorder and violence: is there a relationship beyond substance abuse. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 47:487–503PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Childers SE, Harding C (1990) Gender, pre-morbid functioning and long term outcome in DSM-III schizophrenia. Schizophr Bull 16:309–318PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Andermann L (2010) Culture and the social construction of gender: mapping the intersection with mental health. Int Rev Psychiatry 22(5):501–512PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Harper S (2009) Madness, power and the media: class, gender and race in popular representations of mental distress. Palgrave Macmillan, BasingstokeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Carll EK (2003) News portrayal of violence and women implications for public policy. Am Behav Sci 46(12):1601–1610CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Wilczynski A (1997) Mad or bad? Child-killers, gender and the courts. Br J Criminol 37(3):419–436CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    McIvor G (2004) Women who offend, vol 44. Jessica Kingsley, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Naylor B (2001) Reporting violence in the British print media: gendered stories. Howard J Crim Justice 40(2):180–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Pollak O (1950) The criminality of women. University of Pennsylvania Press, PhiladelphiaGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Anderson EA (1976) The chivalrous treatment of the female offender in the arms of the criminal justice system. Soc Probl 23:349–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Grabe ME, Trager KD, Lear M, Rauch J (2006) Gender in crime news: a case study test of the chivalry hypothesis. Mass Commun Soc 9(2):137–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    McKenna SA (2011) Maintaining class, producing gender: enhancement discourses about amphetamine in entertainment media. Int J Drug Policy 22(6):455–462PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. 21.
    Chen YY, Liao SF, Teng PR, Tsai CW, Fan HF, Lee WC, Cheng ATA (2012) The impact of media reporting of the suicide of a singer on suicide rates in Taiwan. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 47:215–221PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Chen YY, Tsai PC, Chen PH, Fan CC, Hung GLC, Cheng ATA (2010) Effect of media reporting of the suicide of a singer in Taiwan: the case of Ivy Li. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 45:363–369PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. 23.
    Bengs C, Johansson E, Danielsson U, Lehti A, Hammarstrom A (2008) Gendered portraits of depression in Swedish newspapers. Qual Health Res 18(7):962–973PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 24.
    Stuart H (2003) Stigma and the daily news: evaluation of a newspaper intervention. Can J Psychiatry 48:651–656PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. 25.
    Steffensmeier D, Allan E (1996) Gender and crime: toward a gendered theory of female offending. Annu Rev Sociol 22:459–487CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Greenfeld LA, Snell TL (1999) Women offenders. US Dept of Justice, WashingtonGoogle Scholar
  27. 27.
    Toronto Star, Nov 16 2010Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rob Whitley
    • 1
    Email author
  • Ademola Adeponle
    • 1
  • Anna Rose Miller
    • 1
  1. 1.Douglas Mental Health University InstituteMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations