Perceived Media Influence, Mental Illness, and Responses to News Coverage of a Mass Shooting

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This study examined the perceived influence of news coverage of the Virginia Tech shootings on self and others’ attitudes about mental illness, and behavioral outcomes (including willingness to seek social connections and willingness to seek and disclose mental health treatment), as a function of personal experience with mental illness (none, family, self). We conducted an online survey of 198 adults within about 1 month of the event. Perceived negative influence of news on others’ attitudes, but not self, was higher for those who had greater experience with mental illness. Fear predicted perceived news influence on self (but not others), primarily for people who had no personal experience with mental illness. Further, for people without mental illness experience, perceived news influence on their own attitudes toward mental illness was associated with more engagement in support/comfort activities and greater likelihood of online opinion expression. In contrast, for people with mental illness, perceiving that others’ attitudes had become more negative was associated with less engagement in support/comfort activities. Finally, perceived news influence on self was related to less willingness to disclose mental health treatment. Implications of the findings are discussed from the perspective of the influence of presumed influence model and intergroup emotions theory.

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