From Mass to Social Media: Governing Mental Health and Depression in the Digital Age

Riki Thompson, University of Washington Tacoma
Rich Furman, University of Washington Tacoma


Over the past century, mental health disorders have become an area of concern for maintaining a “productive” population, as attention has shifted to endemics that slowly diminish the capacity to live a long and productive life and the care of society depends upon disciplinary technologies that aim to educate and manage people about health and self-care. People deemed as a burden on the state, such as the mentally ill, are commonly objects of governmentality (Foucault, 1988, 2003, 2011). In this study of the U.S. National Institute for Mental Health media campaign (2003-2013), we explore the intersection between institutional discourse, narratives of personal experience, and media forms. This research contributes to the burgeoning field of Digital Discourse Studies to provide improved tools for sociolinguistic and discourse-analytic research in new media contexts by combining governmentality theory, multimodality studies, and CDA methodologies that serve new media environments. Through this case study we illustrate how institutions operationalize virtual visual synthetic personalization to reproduce institutional discourses in the service of governing, and we extend upon governmentality, introducing technologies of sociality as a disciplinary technology brought on by the affordances of social media.