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Tipping point for mental health reporting

Monday, 13 November 2017 Mind

Coinciding with the Virgin Money Giving Mind Media Awards 2017, latest study reveals that for first time, print media reporting of mental health is significantly more balanced and responsible, with more coverage than ever before.

The Virgin Money Giving Mind Media Awards, taking place tonight on 13 November, celebrate the very best portrayals and reporting of mental health problems across broadcast, print and digital media and film. This year’s diverse shortlist includes This Morning, Cold Feet and Rio Ferdinand’s BBC documentary, ‘Being Mum and Dad’ about dealing with bereavement.

The annual award ceremony, which this year received a record number of entries in 11 categories, takes place at the Odeon, Leicester Square, London. It is being hosted by TV presenter and Mind Ambassador Fearne Cotton with Prince Harry in attendance to present one of the awards.

Coinciding with the Virgin Money Giving Mind Media Awards 2017, latest study reveals that for first time, print media reporting of mental health is significantly more balanced and responsible with more coverage than ever before. 

‘Mind Over Matter’, is an ongoing collaboration with Mind & the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, King’s College London, which examines the reporting of mental illness in the UK print media. 

For the first time since the study started in 2008 there were significantly more anti-stigmatising articles (50%) than stigmatising (35%) articles. The remainder of articles were mixed (6%) or neutral (9%).But worryingly the reporting of violence and mental illness, and schizophrenia continues to be stigmatising. 

Stigmatising content refers to articles which portray people with mental health problems as a danger to others, or a hopeless victim, as behaving strangely, or being a problem for others. Whereas, articles were rated as anti-stigmatising if they offered a more sympathetic portrayal, or focused on recovery and treatment or promoted mental health. The study was based on an analysis of articles on mental illness from 27 local and national UK newspapers, on two randomly selected days of each month during 2016.

The results for 2016 have been published to coincide with this year’s Virgin Money Giving Mind Media Awards. Other findings include:

  • 2016 had the highest number of articles covering issues related to mental health since the study began (1,738 articles compared with 941 in 2014, the highest previous sample size), showing how mainstream the topic has now become
  • The most common sources for articles were people with mental health problems both public figures and general public, reflecting the increasing numbers speaking out about the issue
  • But the most frequent stigmatising elements in reporting were ‘danger to others’ and ‘hopeless victim’, demonstrating there is still more work to be done to challenge outdated stereotypes
  • And worryingly reporting on schizophrenia was more often stigmatising than anti-stigmatising, the only mental illness diagnosis to see this. 

Time to Change is run by mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. Its Director Sue Baker said: 

“The media can be incredibly powerful when it comes to educating and influencing the public about mental health. When done well, the media helps to raise awareness, challenge attitudes and dispel myths. But sensationalist journalism can overplay the risk of violence, promote fear and mistrust and widen the gap of understanding.

“The findings from this latest study shows we’re heading in the right direction but there’s more still to be done, particularly when it comes to challenging misconceptions around mental illness and violence.”

Benjamin Damtten, 43, has experienced first hand the impact of sensationalist media coverage, he said: 

“A lot of people who hear the word schizophrenia are scared. They are scared because all they have to go on is what they see on the news, which is the ‘madman’ with a machete. I am the opposite of that. I sit on my own in my house, sometimes crying, because I am terrified. I am scared to face the world.”

“I also think people in my area know I have schizophrenia and they treat me differently. They pull their children away from me or they move away at the bus stop. I think ‘What do they think I’m going to do? Do they think I’m violent?"


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