Judging the Mind Media Awards
Posted Thursday 8 November 2012
After six years of marriage my husband is getting used to me hurling abuse at the telly or harrumphing at the radio when mental health is mentioned or depicted in a disparaging way.
Luckily he’s also used to my capricious demands to pause or rewind a program that shows mental health problems as they really are, or calls into question stereotypes, or adds something new and challenging to the debate about treatment, or does anything that breaks down stigma, while I grab a pen and furiously scrawl notes. Even more fortunately, he doesn’t mind that for about a month a year, almost all we watch or listen to is programmes about mental health.
I’ve been a judge of the Mind Media Awards for the past 10 years, which means that sometime around September a fat package of DVDs lobs through the door. How big depends on how many categories I’m judging and how tough a time the shortlisters had whittling down entries.
This year was a very big envelope indeed – not just because I judged all the categories, but because we seem to have come a long way in the past decade and the entries were of a really high standard.
The drama category was the best surprise this year. Drama is hit and miss when it comes to mental health, and last year it was a slim category, leading to a diatribe from judge Gwynneth Hughes on awards night. The screenwriters on the judging panel, including Gwynneth, say how notoriously hard it is to get a drama about mental health made, so it’s not surprising it is frequently the scantiest category. It was a bit daunting to find five dramas totalling nearly 10 hours of DVD time in the package, but it was also quite a thrill, and the quality of programming led to one of our more robust arguments of the day.
For argue we do.
Not in a nasty way (I’ve yet to see anyone reduced to tears or strop out of the room, although a good sulk is not out of the question), and we are mostly very polite. Mostly. After all, the reason we are there as judges is that we are passionate about the programming, and like the general public, we all like different things.
Fortunately we have criteria that, together with the (mostly!) good-natured guidance of Chair Eric Appleby, keep us on track. Programmes have to be relevant, well crafted, and challenging. They must have a wide audience and perhaps most importantly, they must be safe. That is to say they must adhere to Samaritans’ guidelines on reporting and portraying suicide and self harm.
Given that the shortlisters have already weeded out programmes that don’t meet the criteria, it generally comes down to what we like. And so the argument begins. It’s rare that there’s a programme no one likes.
I started the conversation on documentaries almost apologetically this year because I didn’t think my preferred candidate would be the choice of others, but was thrilled when I found an unlikely ally who also loved it. (Not telling which it was though – it could be any one of the excellent selection, because it far from the only one I liked.)
Each year I’m bemused at how often my mind changes in the course of an argument, and how people who walk in set against a particular programme winning are swayed to liking it as we dissect its merits.
Each judge brings a different skill set and perspective to the table, with journalists, screenwriters, documentary makers, public relations types, radio presenters, and a psychiatrist (although Max is probably there more in his media guise as a popular columnist and journalist than as Dr Pemberton!). We are an eclectic bunch, with disparate views and different experiences of mental health too, but in the end we all agree on one thing: it really matters how mental health is portrayed in the media.
Whether it’s factual reporting or programming, drama, soaps or a radio play, a bad programme won’t just lead to dents in my telly, it could also affect the way I’m treated by other people.
A good programme is going to help people understand. A good drama doesn’t just expose us to mental health, shows us the impact that the response to a mental health problem has. A good documentary doesn’t just educate us, it challenges our own assumptions and attitudes. A good news report doesn’t just inform us, it furthers the debate on mental health.
This year the debate has taken a whole new direction. Take a look at the shortlist and you’ll see 2012 is unquestionably the Year of the Bloke. Woman’s Hour used to dominate factual entertainment. This year Men’s Hour has taken its spot. It’s not just that, this year we’ve got men speaking out, telling their own stories. Soldiers, sportsmen, entertainers, ordinary people …. Even Rolf Harris. And when Piers Morgan pops up in two categories on the short list, you know the times are changing.
Liz is a mental health specialist with a background in journalism, television production and public relations. She now works with the voluntary sector on mental health policy, with a particular emphasis on reducing stigma and discrimination. Liz was awarded the Mental Health Media Survivor Award in 2002 for a Channel 4 report on mental health legislation.
You can follow her on Twitter: @BelfastKoala
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