MCLA Professor Publishes Book About Media Representation of "Mental Health"


NORTH ADAMS, MA - Dr. Michael Birch, an associate professor of English/communications at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts (MCLA), has published "Mediating Mental Health: Contexts, Debates and Analysis," a book about improving media representations of mental health.

With a globally projected increase in mental health conditions, "Mediating Mental Health" offers a detailed, critical analysis of media representations, looking across genre forms. Examining film, television and radio, media constructions of mental health identity are analyzed along with language in representations.

According to Birch, who is originally from England, "In the United States, 77 million will experience mental health issues; that's one in four people. In the U.K., this statistic is the same and by 2020, unipolar depression will be the second most common disease on the planet. I want future reporters to be better informed and to avoid communicating the damaging impact of stigma.

Structured in two phases, the book's first phase analyses film, television, radio and a cartoon, looking a differences in meanings between factual and fictional forms. The second phase is split into two sections: The first part looks at how mental healthcare professionals, media professionals and people with conditions read different meanings from the same four television and radio examples; the second section looks at new media images made about mental health, by people with conditions. Findings from both study phases provide indicators toward improvement in mediations.

Published by Ashgate Publishing of Williston, Vt., Birch wrote the book for use in his fall class, "Film Mediations about Mental Health." In addition to being written for his students, "Mediating Mental Health" is intended for media professionals, mental healthcare professionals, those who have experienced a mental health condition, scholars of media and cultural studies, sociologists, as well as those interested in media representations of marginalized cultural groups.

"The problem of media representations regarding mental health is now a global issue as health agencies express concern about produced stigma and its outcomes, specifically social exclusion," said Birch.

According to James Trueman of Anglia Ruskin University, UK, "Mike Birch offers an extensive, academically robust and thought provoking analysis of mental health mediation. Historically and contextually situated, it is an excellent critical inquiry into the nature of these powerful and often negative discursive practices. The text would be a valuable resource to many readers, particularly for those interested in mental health, media studies, discourse analysis and policy development."

"Mike Birch has accomplished one of the most qualitatively rigorous studies of media representations of mental health that has ever been attempted. It embraces the perspectives of all major stake-holders, and yields profound and practical insights into mediated constructions of stigma," said Oliver Boyd-Barrett of Bowling Green State University.

"Michael Birch's compelling work questions the mental health of a society, rather than that of those it defines as unhealthy. He demonstrates that modes of representation of mental health in Britain in particular, offer insights into the conventions underlying cultural practices and institutions. Drawing upon examples of ethnographic experiments derived from applied television and theatre practices, Birch shows masterfully that it is within representations as locations of power that 'disability' is imagined, enforced and contested," said Awam Amkpa of New York University and author of Theatre and Postcolonial Desires.

Birch has taught English/communications at MCLA since 2002. He also has a background in mental health, working for 10 years in special education with people who had emotional and behavioral disorders. He earned his master's degree in cultural studies from Lancaster University and his Ph.D. in politics and communications from the University of Liverpool.

"Mediating Mental Health" is available as a book and an ebook from and .

Images used in the book, including the front cover, are used courtesy of the Clark Art Institute.