Coverage of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in The New York Times, 1950–2012

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Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health disorder that occurs for some individuals following a traumatic experience and that can cause significant health, mental health, and functioning problems. The concept of PTSD has multiple components (cause, reactions, and treatment), which provides for great variety in the experience of an individual with PTSD. Given this complexity, the news media's construction of PTSD is likely an important influence in determining how the public understands PTSD, but research has yet to investigate how the news media depict PTSD. This study addresses that gap in the literature by examining New York Times coverage of PTSD from 1950 to 2012. Results indicate that the number of PTSD articles during this time period increased, with coverage spikes related to U.S. military conflicts and the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Almost half (49.14%) of all PTSD articles included military service as a PTSD cause. Military PTSD articles were more likely than civilian PTSD articles to depict the disorder as causing anger/irritability/rage, homicide/violence/rape, suicide, substance abuse, and home/work/relationship problems. PTSD news stories were almost always (94.8%) situated in the current time and most frequently (46.6%) used a community frame. Implications for public understanding of PTSD are discussed.

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Journal of Health Communication, v. 21, issue 2, p. 240-248