The media does get it right
Posted Tuesday 10 July 2012
On 19 November, Mind will, for the nineteenth consecutive year (Edited - 7pm, 10 July) Including, present awards to those responsible for some of the best coverage of mental health issues across the range of UK media. If you've ever seen the tabloid headlines stigmatically screaming, “schizo runs amok!” or the film where the “mad” antagonist is portrayed as creepy, criminally deranged and out to destroy your very soul, then you'll know exactly why these awards are a necessity.
As most of those that experience mental distress, as well as their carers and those working in the arena will know, this is very rarely a realistic portrayal of individuals with a mental illness. Yet it is the one that has so far stubbornly prevailed. Should we sit back and blithely accept this situation? Er...of course not.
So, since 2007, the Mind Media Awards have sought to highlight the times where the media gets it right. The most gratifying thing? There are more such times than you might think – yet without the awards ceremony, these excellent documentaries, radio programmes, tweeters, bloggers and storylines could be be consigned to the dusty shelves of a basement archive, or to the crowded noise of the internet. In rewarding these efforts, Mind has brought them to the fore, saying, “look! This can be done well! Here are some excellent examples of people doing just that.”
I was incredibly privileged in 2011 to be shortlisted for the Mark Hanson New Media Award for my blog, Confessions of a Serial Insomniac. Despite my stunned gratitude and immense sense of honour, I really didn't know what to expect from the event – would media and PR 'types' live up to a sometimes-cynical reputation? To what extent would I feel out of my depth? Were some of the apparently encouraging media portrayals of mental health issues mere coincidence, rather than something researched and realised accordingly?
Well, I should not have worried. I was honestly moved – at one point, almost to tears (by Victoria Derbyshire's Alcoholic GP, if you're interested) – by the material shown/heard/whatever, but there was more than that. In discussion with other nominees, what struck me – aside from their down-to-Earth, friendly demeanours – was the passion they shared for their subject matter, and the genuine regard they had for those they had tried to represent. None of their enthusiasm was falsified or affected; they truly seemed to care about portraying an accurate and sympathetic view of issues surrounding mental health. Their work wasn't about sensationalising or dramatising for its own sake, or even just about viewing figures; it was about bringing an almost taboo subject to an engaged audience, and challenging them to think about it.
We need this kind of recognition and open discourse. Events like the Media Awards have occasionally been branded as highlighting prominent figures and material rather than the 'common' person suffering from a mental health problem. Aside from the fact that that's simply not true – I (amongst several other shortlisted entries in 2011) do not exactly have my face plastered over every motorway billboard in the country – whether the players are well- or little-known, they are valuable. It is only through regular public promotion that we can hope to normalise mental illness and empower those ordinary people who suffer from it daily – and shouldn't anyone who plays their part in that be rewarded and congratulated for it?
The Mind Media Awards won't change the world by themselves. What will? However, a combination of various things may do so. We have, for example, many people in the mental health community using the considerable power of social media – mainly to come together socially and in mutual support, but also to consolidate ourselves into one meaningful voice.
There are influential initiatives such as Time to Change. We've even now seen MPs speaking openly of their own mental health difficulties. All of these things are, in their own way, at least beginning to change an existing landscape of discrimination. In celebrating commendable discussion and depictions of mental health issues, the Mind Media Awards can only further this cause.
You can read more about Pandora's personal experience of the 2011 presentation on her blog. Please note that the post contains strong language.
Pandora is now retired from her award-winning blog, Confessions of a Serial Insomniac, but the archives of the site remain online. She is also the co-Editor of The World of Mentalists (formerly This Week in Mentalists), which regularly highlights the best of mental health blogging and reporting, as well as other relevant stories.
Submit an entry, or suggest a winner, for the Digital, Journalist and Student journalist categories.
Submit your programme for the Documentary, Features and factual entertainment, Speech radio, News and current affairs or Drama awards.
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