Type Jade Goody’s name into Google Images and you find an array of pictures from bouncy Big Brother star, through smiling but bald cancer patient, to pain-wracked dying woman. Jade was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2008 and died at the age of 27 just a few months later. Her tragic story received unprecedented media attention and the general public were privy to the intimate details of the last months of her life. In what has become known as the ‘Jade Effect’, her story had an extraordinary impact on women’s participation in cervical screening – we think about half a million extra women went for screening during the time of her illness.
As psychologists, we were interested in which women were influenced by Jade’s story and why. To try to understand more about the Jade Effect, we did a survey of 890 women in England – all of them within the age range that are offered screening.. We collected information about women’s age and their social background and we asked them if they’d been affected by Jade’s story in their decisions about cervical screening. The survey was done about 18 months after Jade’s death, so we asked women to think back over that time period.
The most interesting finding was that younger women were more influenced by Jade, and so were women who had children at a younger age, and who came from more deprived backgrounds. So why do we think this is? Well, Jade was 27 when she died, and it’s no secret that she had a hard childhood in Bermondsey – hers was a ‘rags to riches’ story. She also had children young – in her early 20s. So it seems possible that the women who were most influenced by her were those who could identify with her. Perhaps there was a sense of ‘it could have been me’ – and this was the prompt they needed to go for screening. Suddenly the stakes were raised and the barriers to having a smear test didn’t seem so important. It’s also possible that some people are more affected by stories than facts. The blanket media coverage and the emotional story of Jade’s illness probably affected people very differently compared with the kind of factual leaflets that are usually used in screening programmes. It could be a case of heart vs. head, and perhaps as psychologists and health educators, we need to realise that stories, or ‘narratives’ as they’re sometimes known, can be a good way to get our message across.
Jo Waller (email@example.com)
Lancucki L, Sasieni P, Patnick J, Day TJ, Vessey MP. The impact of Jade Goody’s diagnosis and death on the NHS Cervical Screening Programme. J Med Screen. 2012 Jun;19(2):89-93. doi: 10.1258/jms.2012.012028. Epub 2012 May 31.
Marlow LA, Sangha A, Patnick J, Waller J. The Jade Goody Effect: whose cervical screening decisions were influenced by her story? J Med Screen. 2012 Dec 27. [Epub ahead of print]