AddThis SmartLayers

'Mental health reporting can further stigmatise sufferers' – report

A new report has described how media reporting can reinforce the prejudice suffered by people with severe mental health problems.

While it shows how common illnesses like depression and anxiety are covered in much the same way as other health conditions, severe mental illness gets a very different treatment.

Mind Over Matter: Media Reporting of Mental Health found that the media tended to focus on rare incidents of violence linked to people with a mental health problem, feeding exaggerated public fears – when the vast majority of people with severe mental health problems pose no threat.

The findings also revealed that people with a mental health problem were quoted in just six per cent of stories on the subject.

The report was commissioned by Shift, a Government programme to reduce stigma and discrimination.

Its aim was to establish whether changes in reporting could improve the lives of people with mental health problems.

The Shift project aims to:

  • Give people with mental health problems a voice by setting up a bureau of speakers who will speak to the media about their mental health;
  • Produce guidelines for journalists on how to report mental health issues without causing offence;
  • Work with the Department of Health to make it clear in public statements that violent crimes involving people with mental health issues are rare and need to be seen in perspective;
  • Monitor media coverage, praising good and challenging bad coverage, and measuring against the benchmark of this report to see if there is any improvement over time.

    Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “I am pleased the report has emphasised the progress that has been made within the media industry.

    “However, there are still many issues that need to be addressed.

    “Apart from it being important that media reports are correct and helpful, we need to remember that 25 per cent of the UK population suffers from mental illnesses.

    “That means there is a strong marketing case, as well as an ethical case, for getting it right and ensuring we do not misrepresent mental health and people who suffer from illnesses.

    “Too often it is perhaps the case that mental health sufferers are portrayed in the media as problem people rather than people with problems.”

    Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: “Stigma blights the lives of far too many people experiencing mental ill health.

    “The media have a vital role to play in helping reduce stigma and improving people’s understanding of mental illness. The NUJ is committed to making this happen.”