The Presentation of Stigmatized Health Issues in Network Television Content


The Presentation of Stigmatized Health Issues in Network Television Content



Franchesca Robin Hackworth


This poster reflects research conducted as part of a course project designed to give students experience in the research process.



The present investigation attempts to provide a more comprehensive investigation of stigma in media by exploring representations of two important stigmatized health contexts (mental illness and HIV/AIDs) in a representative sample of television programming. The study has three objectives: 1) identify the program types more likely to contain information about these stigmatizing health conditions, 2) explore differences in stigmatizing information present in each program type, and 3) explore similarities and differences between contexts. Findings from the investigation have the potential to provide insights for media literacy initiatives (i.e., identifying particularly problematic exposure points) and stigma reduction messaging (i.e., identifying specific cues that need to be corrected or dispelled through campaign or treatment efficacy messages). A television sample of 672 total hours of content was coded for mentions of HIV/AIDs and mental illness. Discussions of mental illness were about 10x more prominent than those of HIV/AIDs and across a diverse range of programming types, while HIV/AIDs mentions were limited to news, commercials, and talk shows. Mental illness content was often associated with the advertisement of a drug. Mental health has the potential to be more stigmatized because of its frequent presence. Local news contained the most content for both health issues (39% HIV/AIDs and 35% mental illness), followed by commercials (29%) and drama (19%) programming for mental illness and talk shows (35%) and commercials (17%) for HIV/AIDs. It may be possible that different production techniques and demands for different programs facilitate portrayals of health issues in different ways. An investigation such as this one allows for comparison between program type within the same time frame, an analysis that is missing from the present landscape of scholarship. We hope to provide directions for stigma reduction messages and areas of attention for media scholars.

Publication Date


Project Designation

Course Project

Primary Advisor

Angeline L. Sangalang

Primary Advisor's Department



Stander Symposium project

The Presentation of Stigmatized Health Issues in Network Television Content