People with lived experience of mental health problems are often asked to tell their stories in the media. Helping to educate the public and dispel some of the myths associated with mental illness is a fundamental aspect of our work, helping us tackle stigma.
We call people who take part in this activity media volunteers. Our media team hear from journalists from a wide variety of media outlets daily looking to interview people with particular experiences of mental health problems. Real-life examples bring an issue to life and allow the audience to understand and empathise with issues around mental health.
Media volunteers are vital to all of our campaigning work. They help bring to light injustices and issues people with mental health problems face every day. Speaking out in the media empowers people with lived experience to break the stigma and raise awareness of mental health, ultimately bringing about change and reform.
Mind’s media volunteers have appeared across many media outlets to talk about breaking issues around mental health, including disability cuts, workplace discrimination and crisis care services. Many have also worked with producers and cast members of documentaries, soaps and films to help encourage better portrayals of mental health.
Journalists and programme makers often contact us to request interviews with or guidance from people with lived experience. We then reach out to our network of media volunteers, asking if anyone is interested in getting involved.
Radio 2 recently approached us looking for someone to speak about faith and mental health. A volunteer and a member of the media team went to BBC Broadcasting House together, and he spoke about this subject, about broader issues around the Mental Health Act, and about his experiences of being detained as a Black man and the racism he experienced.
We always support our media volunteers to steer the conversation wherever possible onto issues that matter most to them. It’s also important to never expect volunteers to do anything alone. If they are interested in an opportunity, we brief them on what questions might come up, offer interview tips and do practice interviews, and help people think about the points they want to get across. Ensuring that media volunteers have enough support is really important.
Mind media volunteer
All the Mind media stuff really cheers me up amidst all the other generic life problems, so it's not too much or overwhelming at all - it's actually a positive thing that I'm really grateful to have as part of my life.
I have worked as a media volunteer with Mind in various ways, raising awareness of stories relating to disability benefits, eating disorders treatment, and a number of campaigns during the 2015 general election. As part of these campaigns, I shared some of my own experiences of mental health problems, treatment and recovery.
I don't think that having lived experience voices in media campaigns automatically lends them credibility. I think how involvement is done, the types of voices that are involved, and the kinds of messages they emphasise really matter.
There have been times where I have felt like journalists want to ‘extract’ my story to furnish their piece with a "real person on the ground" element, in ways that feel transactional and only seek to represent conventional narratives of mental health. This has left me feeling unheard and like a product rather than an individual, unique person.
Stories can be complex, and often experiences I wanted to talk about were sanitised in favour of using only the elements of my story deemed appealing, impactful, or comfortable, which is frustrating.
This has sometimes depended on format. For example doing live interviews (as I did for the disability benefits story on BBC Radio 4) allowed me a direct platform to contribute my story on my own terms. These have always been the most impactful experiences for me, are the ones that I have received the best feedback for, and in my view benefit campaigns the most.
When I first started doing media work, I was driven by a need to tell my story, and it brought me a sense of justice and catharsis. This has changed over time, to be less about my own personal process and more about using my experiences in a targeted way to produce a specific outcome.
In that sense, it has benefited me in terms of developing other skills, such as media communication skills, constructing an effective narrative, and working in fast-paced situations.
It has also increased my confidence in presenting to others in different formats, and a sense of achievement when something goes well and change is created.
Being a media volunteer often involves working in fast-paced and pressurised situations where things don't always go to plan or can be cancelled at the last minute. The more you can do to help mitigate this and provide clarity for volunteers, the better.
It can often be quite lonely, and there could be more peer support via training days and meetups, workshops on telling your story, as this could bring a sense of solidarity and mutual support. Facilitating more experienced volunteers to coach less experienced ones
Organisations should also think carefully about diversity: who is involved, and what kinds of experiences they are representing, rather than just relying on ‘safe’ or ‘acceptable’ voices.