The stigmatising of schizophrenia and autism in the Flemish daily papers
background A considerable social stigma is attached to many types of psychiatric disorders. However, research also shows that there are differences in the degree of social stigma attached to psychiatric disorders. There is evidence that the portrayal of schizophrenia in the media is particularly negative.
aim To compare the degree of stigma in reporting of autism and schizophrenia in the Flemish daily newspapers.
method Via the websites of the seven Flemish daily newspapers, we searched for all articles published between 2008 and 2012 containing the keywords autism/autist(ic) and schizophrenia/schizophrenic. The collected articles (n = 4,181) were then graded to their stigmatising content.
results In the collected articles the coverage of autism was mostly positive, whereas the coverage of schizophrenia was predominantly negative. The contrast between the reporting on autism and on schizophrenia was very substantial (p < 0.0001) and the negative coverage of both disorders increased over time.
conclusion The social stigma attached to schizophrenia is poignantly reflected in the Flemish newspapers. The fact that a disorder such as autism, which has many features in common with schizophrenia, is depicted in a much more favourable way than schizophrenia indicates that a more positive image of schizophrenia is not only desirable but also achievable.