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Metaphoric and non-metaphoric use of the term “schizophrenia” in Italian newspapers

Abstract

Purpose

This study examines how the term “schizophrenia” is used in Italian newspapers.

Methods

The survey was carried out on the 22 Italian newspapers which allow word scanning on their online website. In each newspaper, the terms “schizophrenia” and “schizophrenic” were scanned in all articles, from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008. Each article containing these terms was analyzed in relation to metaphorical usage to describe or denigrate people or groups not diagnosed “schizophrenic” and in relation to non-metaphoric, direct descriptions of people using mental health services, or the illness itself.

Results

“Schizophrenia/schizophrenic” was reported in 1,087 articles. It was used far more frequently as a metaphor (73.7%) than in reference to people actually given the diagnosis (19.2%) or to the disorder itself (7.1%). The 801 metaphoric uses were classified into the following categories: incoherence/contradiction/split (682, 85.1%), dangerousness/aggressiveness (34, 4.4%), and eccentricity/oddness (84, 10.5%). 117 out of 209 (55.9%) articles on people diagnosed with the disorder were in news section of which 57 (48.7%) referred to homicides, 17 (14.5%) to other assaults by the person, and 33 (28.2%) to assaults directed at the person.

Conclusions

These data confirm previous studies showing that the media disproportionately report negative stories about people diagnosed with “schizophrenia”, and in particular, equate the diagnosis with violence. The study also demonstrates that the metaphorical use of the term to denigrate groups or individuals may be an equal or greater contributor to the stigma and prejudice experienced by people with this mental disorder.

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Acknowledgments

The authors thank Prof. Itzhak Levav, Research Unit, Mental Health Services of the Israeli Ministry of Health for his valuable comments on the first draft of this paper, and Dr. Adrienne Harrison for her linguistic help.

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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Correspondence to Lorenza Magliano.

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Magliano, L., Read, J. & Marassi, R. Metaphoric and non-metaphoric use of the term “schizophrenia” in Italian newspapers. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 46, 1019–1025 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-010-0274-3

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-010-0274-3

Keywords

  • Schizophrenia
  • Stigma
  • Newspapers
  • Media