Mental Health in Nepal: Observing Media Representation of Celebrity Suicides

Sudeep Uprety and Rajesh Ghimire

Mental Health Awareness Week is celebrated every year from 14-20 May. During this week, various government and non-government bodies, academic community and mental health practitioners come together to spread awareness on mental health. This year the mental health community is focusing on stress and coping mechanisms. 

When it comes to mental health, suicide is one of the most common phenomena, with about 800,000 deaths every year due to suicide. Strikingly, 78% of these suicides happen in low and middle income countries. World Health Organization (WHO) is committed to improve mental health situation globally as Mental Health Action Plan 2013-2020 has set the target of reduction of suicide rate in by 10% by 2020.Mental health in Nepal is gradually becoming a major public health problem with about 30% of Nepalis having some psychiatric problems and about 90% of those not being able to access services.

Understanding threat construction through media– Case Study of Yama Buddha’s suicide
As development communications professionals, we were interested to understand the media representation of mental health in Nepal. We conducted a freelance study on a case study of media representation of suicide of Anil Adhikari – a famous Nepali musician popularly known as rapper Yama Buddha. We conducted content analysis of mainstream and online media content and applied a securitization theory of interpretation to understand whether and how elements of threats and sensationalism were used by the mainstream and online media. 

Major findings from the study:
1.    Reputed mainstream media outlets have been cautious when it comes to choice of words used for the title to thecontent, to ensure that the followers/fans of the celebritydo not follow the path of ‘copycat suicide’. 
2.    In online media and social media,there were sensationalist words and tone used to attract the audience.This nature of clickbaitjournalism, knowingly or unknowingly has resulted in mental health issues being‘over-reported’ in the media.
3.    The context of storyproduction – the tight deadlines, limited resources and the interest of media housesto capitalize on the celebrity coverage could also have triggered such reporting trends.
4.    Some good initiatives started with NGOs/research organisations playing the intermediary role between government and media to improve better reporting on health issues (such as HERD and COMDIS-HSD’s media intervention project).

Key Recommendations from the study:
1.    More awareness and understanding about mental healthproblems, including myths and misconceptions that exist.
2.    Capacity building of media professionals to better understandand report on mental health problems and consequences of securitization atthe public level.
3.    Development and proper implementation of media guidelines on reportingsuicide and other mental health issues.
This study has been published as a book chapter by IGI Global and part of an edited volume – ‘Deconstructing Stigma in Mental Health’ available online

Uprety and Ghimire are development communications professionals based in Nepal. 


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