“Media and Mental Health”, a call for proposals panel

NECS Conference Epistemic Media: Atlas, Archive, Network, Bucharest, National University of Theatre and Film, 22-26 June, 2022

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, many actors in the field of mental health have pointed out the risks that such a phenomenon poses to the psychological balance of citizens under such stress. At a time when the 5th wave of Covid-19 is raging, the question of how to visualize data on the circulation of the disease on a global scale is more important than ever. Often compared to the Spanish flu or even to the various plague epidemics of the Middle Ages, Covid-19, like other respiratory diseases that appeared at the turn of our century, is characterized by its invisibility. It is not only difficult to locate the origin of the virus, but also to track its circulation in a globalized world where a virus can survive over long distances.

COVID-19 Dashboard by John Hopkins University (screenshot of 22.12.21)

Similarly it is difficult, in our times of interconnectedness through media, to locate origins and truthfulness of knowledge, discourses circulating on the pandemic and the virus. With that in mind it is interesting to ask what role the audiovisual and social media play in exacerbating or, on the contrary, countering fears about the pandemic. As Kirsten Ostherr (Ostherr 2020) shows for the Zika Virus, social media can also encourage the development of counter-narratives about the consequences of the disease.

This leads to questions such as: How do current representations and discourses on contagion negotiate the problem of the virus’ elusiveness and what are the consequences on mental health? How do digital and social media contribute to changing the ways in which the disease is codified and represented? What rhetorics are used now and in the past to talk about viruses and what kind of emotions can this evoke? How does the knowledge produced by the media contribute to the impact of users’ mental health? To what extent can contagion be seen as a metaphor for the circulation of knowledge about the pandemic?

Old and new visual rhetorics of contagion

These questions are just a few examples inspired by the current pandemic, to encourage proposals to reflect on the role of (audio)visual media in the construction of mental health-related knowledge and norms. Because it is an epistemic practice that produces discourses on what is normal and what is pathological, it has a central role in social mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. Therefore, we would like to question the ways in which the audiovisual media participate in drawing the boundaries between mental illness and health and what social, political and ideological issues underlie such processes.

Despite this important social role of media, research on audiovisual materials concerning mental health issues has long been a niche in media studies and medical humanities. A similar development can be noticed for research on mental health problems in relation to other media forms such as television, streaming platforms, telemedicine devices, social media, video games, etc. Since the 2000s interest in the relationship between audiovisual media and (mental) health has been growing, as shown by the ERC BodyCapital research program, the MedFilm platform, the National Library of Medicine (NLM) and its Medicine on Screen collections and essays, the Wellcome collection or several important publications. More recently a new research project was funded on the Waldau collection in Switzerland. All these works show the vitality of a field of research that aims to understand the role of the media in the medical sciences, which contributes early on to modifying the epistemology of medicine and health.

The Eternal Fight (WHO, 1948)

Scholars from all areas of cinema and media studies, whether previously affiliated with NECS or new to the network, are invited to submit proposals, but NECS membership is a requirement.

Please submit your proposal before the 10th of January 2022, providing your name, email address, the title of the paper, an abstract (max. 300 words), key biographical references (max. 200 words), and a short bio (max. 150 words). Presentations last a maximum of 20 minutes, 15 minutes if the panel consists of 4 presenters.

Proposal has to be sent to mireille.berton@unil.ch and bregt.lameris@ou.nl

Mireille Berton (UNIL) & Bregt Lameris (Open Universiteit, NL)


OSTHERR, Kirsten (2020), “Zika Virus, Global Health Communication, and Datasurveillance”, in Christian Bonah & Anja Laukötter (eds.), Body, Capital and Screens. Visual Media and the Healthy Self in the 20th Century, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 305-334.

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