"Calculating the toll of trauma" in the headlines: Portrayals of posttraumatic stress disorder in the New York Times (1980-2015)

Jonathan Purtle, Katherine Lynn, Mashal Malik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public awareness about traumatic stress is needed to address trauma as a public health issue. News media influence public awareness, but little is known about how traumatic-related disorders are portrayed in the news. A content analysis was conducted of all articles that mentioned posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in The New York Times between 1980-2015. There were 871 articles analyzed. The number of PTSD articles published annually increased dramatically, from 2 in 1980 to 70 in 2014. Overall, 50.6% of articles were focused on military populations. Combat was identified as the trauma exposure in 38.0% of articles, while sexual assault was identified in 8.7%. Negative themes such as crimes perpetrated by people with possible PTSD (18.0%) and substance abuse (11.5%) were prominent, substance abuse being more prevalent in articles focused on military populations (16.4% vs. 6.3%, p = <.001). Only 9.1% of articles mentioned PTSD treatment options and this theme became less prevalent over time-ranging from 19.4% of articles published between 1980-1995 to just 5.7% of articles published between 2005-2015 (p = <.001). Results suggest that public awareness of PTSD has increased, but may be incomplete, inaccurate, and perpetuate PTSD stigma at individual- and institutional-levels. These findings can inform advocacy strategies that enhance public awareness about PTSD and traumatic stress.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)632-638
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Orthopsychiatry
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2016


  • Media analysis
  • Policy
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder
  • Public awareness
  • Trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology (miscellaneous)
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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