Portrayal of psychiatric genetics in Australian print news media, 1996-2009

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Journal Article
Medical Journal of Australia, 2011, 195 (7), pp. 401 - 404
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Objective: To investigate how Australian print news media portray psychiatric genetics. Design and setting: Content and framing analysis of a structured sample of print news items about psychiatric genetics published in Australian newspapers between 1996 and 2009. Main outcome measures: Identify dominant discourses about aetiology of mental illness, and perceived clinical outcomes and implications of psychiatric genetics research. Results: We analysed 406 eligible items about the genetics of psychiatric disorders. News coverage of psychiatric genetics has steadily increased since 1996. Items attributing the aetiology of psychiatric disorders to gene-environment interactions (51%) outnumbered items attributing only genetic (30%) or only environmental factors (20%). Of items that referred to heritability of mental illness, frames of genetic determinism (78%) occurred more frequently than probabilistic frames (22%). Of frames related to genetic prophesy, genetic optimism frames (78%) were used more frequently than frames of genetic pessimism (22%). Psychosocial and ethical implications of psychiatric genetics received comparatively relatively little coverage (23%). The analysis identified 22 predictions about psychiatric genetic discoveries and the availability of molecular-based interventions in psychiatry, most of which (20/ 22, 91%) failed to manifest by the predicted year. Conclusions: Excessive optimism about the power of genetic technology in psychiatric health care, perceived clinical benefits, and largely unfulfilled predictions about availability of these benefits could encourage unrealistic expectations about future molecular-based treatment options for mental health.
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