A Discursive Thematic Analysis of Audience Response Towards the Portrayal of Mental Distress in United Kingdom Soap Operas

Prof Doc Thesis

Smith, Edward 2012. A Discursive Thematic Analysis of Audience Response Towards the Portrayal of Mental Distress in United Kingdom Soap Operas. Prof Doc Thesis University of East London School of Psychology https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.1859
AuthorsSmith, Edward
TypeProf Doc Thesis

The potential for stigmatising public attitudes to have a negative impact on the wellbeing of individuals identified as experiencing mental distress has been widely documented. The contribution of the mass media towards public attitudes surrounding mental distress has attracted particular interest, particularly that of television portrayals. Research into the influence of the media towards public attitudes has focused on a ‘strong media’ model that assumes a direct influence of the content on viewer attitudes. Recent theory has suggested an ‘audience response’ model whereby audience attitudes towards the subject matter, genre and purpose of viewing can influence their understanding of the content; however this approach is under-represented in research. In the United Kingdom the soap opera genre in particular is positioned to have a potential role in influencing public attitudes towards mental distress, frequently depicting mental distress within a realist frame and being presented as having a public service function.
This thesis aims to explore the ideas that viewers take from soap opera portrayals of mental distress within an audience response approach. Soap opera viewers were interviewed about the ideas of mental distress they developed from storylines they had watched, and these interviews were analysed using a discursive thematic analysis, taking into account their beliefs about mental distress, the soap opera genre and their viewing purposes. These constructions drew attention to the presentation of mental distress as socially undesirable and incomprehensible, the validation of mental distress storylines as socially responsible by programme makers and viewers, and the purpose of these storylines as cautionary tales against dissent from professional opinion.
This research supports calls for greater diversity in television representations of mental distress; in particular a stronger representation of positive or heroic qualities in characters portrayed with mental distress, and a greater role for psycho-social explanations of their distress. This research also questions whether positive representations of mental distress are best served through explicit ‘anti-stigma’ campaigns.

KeywordsSoap Operas; Mental Health; Audience Response
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.15123/PUB.1859
Publication dates
PrintJul 2012
Publication process dates
Deposited02 Apr 2013
Publisher's version
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