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“All I need to do is improve my diet and exercise habits”: Exploring the impact of the ‘mental healthism’ discourse on people who have experienced mental illness

Fimmano, Madeleine (2019) “All I need to do is improve my diet and exercise habits”: Exploring the impact of the ‘mental healthism’ discourse on people who have experienced mental illness. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Abstract

Healthism is an ideology and discourse that positions the maintenance of health as a personal responsibility under individual control. It is known to negatively impact the lives of individuals, especially those judged as ‘physically unhealthy’. The aim of this exploratory mixed methods study was to investigate whether the healthism ideology and discourse extends to include mental health. This was referred to as ‘mental healthism’. This study also aimed to explore whether exposure to mental healthism framings affects: mood, self-stigma, mental healthism attitudes, or beliefs about mental health, in people who have experienced mental illness. One hundred and twenty-four participants with a history of mental illness were randomly assigned to read news media stories relating to mental health, two of which contained a mental healthism framing. They then completed an online survey containing self-report scales that measured mood, self-stigma and mental healthism attitudes, before contributing answers to open-ended questions regarding mental health. The quantitative data did not identify an effect of reading the different framings of mental health on any of the psychosocial variables. However, the qualitative responses provided evidence that mental healthism is already ingrained within understandings of mental illness. Furthermore, the qualitative data revealed that the mental healthism framings led to negative attitudes towards medication as a treatment for mental illness, suggesting that mental healthism could increase stigma around medication use. The convergent result of this mixed method study calls for additional ‘mental healthism’ research in samples of people who have not experienced mental illness.

Messages about how to remain healthy through diet and exercise are ubiquitous in the news and popular media. They operate on an ideology and discourse known as ‘healthism’ which emphasises personal responsibility for individuals to manage their bodies in pursuit of good health (Crawford, 1980). Healthism beliefs are associated with negative psychosocial outcomes, particularly for groups of people who do not meet society’s standards of ‘healthy’. These include stigma, anxiety and discrimination (Crawford, 1994, 2004; Powroznik, 2017). In recent times, these healthism messages have been linked to mental health, with a growing focus in the media on using diet and exercise to control or prevent mental illness. In consideration of the negative effects of the healthism discourse, this study is concerned with the potential impact of ‘mental healthism’ on mood, self-stigma and attitude formation for those who have experienced mental illness.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation: Psychology, Counselling, Exercise Science and Chiropractic
Supervisor(s): Monsoon, Olivia
URI: http://researchrepository.murdoch.edu.au/id/eprint/55036
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