Recent polling carried out for Mind showed that people believe journalists have more influence over public attitudes to mental health than politicians do. Where negative coverage can have a devastating effect on people's lives, accurate, positive portrayals of mental health can be a lifeline.
Julia Lamb, Media Engagement and Awards Manager, explains why we hold the Mind Media Awards and have done for the last 25 years.
Anyone who picks up a tabloid or celebrity mag will know that the media can shape how we see ourselves and others.
Headlines reporting which celeb has piled on the pounds or whose relationship is on the rocks can set us thinking – and whether we like to admit it or not, set us judging – whether someone really has "let themselves go" or if our own relationship is vulnerable. Multiply this by the amount of media we see and hear every day and we have a powerful force influencing what we think about, what we talk about, and even how we treat ourselves and others.
If this sounds far-fetched, we only need to look to research which suggests that disability hate crime rises following negative media stories about people with disabilities. Or the well-established evidence showing that detailed stories and reports on suicide can lead to copycat behaviour among vulnerable people. Recent polling carried out for Mind showed that people believe journalists have more influence over public attitudes to mental health than politicians do. That power is one of the reasons we run the Mind Media Awards.
Mind's research shows that dramas, documentaries and news reports on mental health prompt people to talk about their mental health, seek help and support other people in their lives. One in four people who saw a mental health story line in a soap said they contacted someone they knew who was experiencing a mental health problem, and 16% sought help for themselves.
Action on this scale - permeating our lives and relationships - doesn't happen as a result of a single documentary or news report. Big scandals played out in the media can occasionally force people and governments into action quickly – but changing every day conversations and perspectives takes time and understanding.
The media can help promote that understanding, by continuously throwing light on issues which we find difficult to talk about or don't have direct experience of ourselves.
While one piece of media coverage doesn't change the whole world overnight, it can change some people's worlds overnight. I would personally love to know how many people first realised that they were experiencing a mental health problem after seeing a soap character going through the same thing. Or how many people have referred to a documentary when trying to explain to a loved one how they were feeling.
This year, I had the pleasure of chairing some of our shortlisting panels for the Mind Media Awards. One person told me that shortlisting had been life-changing for them – while reviewing entries, they found new information which gave them the knowledge and confidence to ask for a change in their treatment.
That is impact, right there. At its best, that is what good media portrayals of mental health can do.
And that's why we run the Mind Media Awards, which celebrate the best portrayals of mental health – not only recognising those achievements, but encouraging more writers and producers to create stories which have a positive impact on all of us. And the Mind Media Advisory service is also there to help them develop those stories informed by real, lived experiences of mental health. The result is a better national conversation about mental health, and another step towards a more supportive society.
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