On Monday 18th March, Time to Change held the latest in its series of media education events. This one focussed on print journalists, both tabloid and broadsheet. How much difference can this make to the quality of press reporting where there is a mental health aspect? Take a look at the links below – including the live blog and tweets under the hashtag #TTCmeet media – to see what you think.
At the start of the evening, a film was shown with some valuable advice about reporting mental illness. It’s well worth watching the short (7 mins) film for more fascinating insights put in a straighforward manner. These included the following advice on reporting breaking news stories:
- Stick to the facts and don’t speculate that mental health is a factor unless you know it to be 100% true
- Interview someone with a mental health problem, to give your audience a realistic view of what it’s like to live with one
- Put as much of the subject’s voice in the piece as possible. Use quotes. Let them them tell the story.
- Include contextualising facts, since homicides by people with mental health problems are incredibly rare
- Seek comment and context by a mental health charity like Mind or Rethink Mental Illness, or a professional body like the Royal College of Psychiatrists
- Avoid stereotypes, clichés & sensationalism
- Mind your language: misusing mental health diagnoses in the media can be offensive, and can cause misunderstanding
- The fact there are so many misconceptions around mental illness means there’s an abundance of great stories waiting to be told.
- There’s a revolution happening in mental health, which gives the best journalists the chance to make their names in an evolving subject.
- When a heinous crime is committed, journalists speculate that the perpetrator must have a mental illness. This is sloppy journalism of course, based around an incorrect assumption that “normal” people can’t do terrible things. The opposite is born out by the facts.
- When a crime is committed by someone who in the past had a mental health diagnosis or contact with mental health services or treatment for a mental health problem, whether recent or in the far distant past, it’s assumed that mental illness caused that crime. Again, sloppy journalism which confuses correlation and cause.
When a crime is committed by someone who’s been diagnosed or treated for mental illness, this is extrapolated to portray all people with mental illness as potentially dangerous. Again, sloppy journalism which is not born out by the facts.
If you’re not familiar with Time to Change or their event that night, here’s some information, followed by all the relevant links. As the Time to Change website says:
“Time to Change is an anti-stigma campaign run by the leading mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness. These two charities decided to work together, combining their knowledge, skills and expertise, in the biggest attempt yet in England to end the discrimination that surrounds mental health.”
When I first started reading around mental health, I didn’t understand what the word “stigma” meant. And it gets repeated a lot. So I came up with the phrase “negative assumptions” instead, which is pretty straightforward. And discrimination is acting on those negative assumptions.
The Time to Change event aimed to provide:
“a space for journalists to learn more about mental health problems by meeting people with direct experience and hearing their stories, along with some top speakers from the industry.”
It was hosted by Time to Change ambassador Alistair Campbell (writer, communicator and formerly Tony Blair’s press secretary) with celebrity panelists including Denise Welch (presenter of ITV’s Loose Women and former Coronation Street actor), Fiona Phillips (TV presenter and Daily Mirror columnist) and Guardian journalist Mary O’Hara. Media volunteers included Helen Hutchings from Tea and Talking and mental health campaigners Jonathan Benjamin and Erica Camus.
It also aimed to enable journalists to:
- challenge myths and misconceptions around mental health
- find out the truth behind the headlines that link mental health with violence
- join in the debate by asking the panel of experts a question
- be inspired by the stories of people with experience of mental health problems
- network with other industry professionals over a glass of wine (the main hook for some attendees no doubt!)
Real stories about mental illness are so much more fascinating than the standard speculation & hyperbole. Hopefully we’ll start to see a gradual improvement in the quality of reporting in Britain’s tabloids and broadsheets when the subject of mental illness comes up.
- My Storify story – Time to Change Meet the Media – where I’ve collated all the tweets during the evening using the #TTCmeetmedia hashtag
- My Storify story – Time to Change Meet the Media 2 – where I’ve collated all my tweets that evening
- Time to Change – live blog of the event
- My page of media advice resources & links
- Time to Change – video for journalists about reporting mental illness
- Time to Change – information about it’s Meet the Media event (here and here)
- Time to Change – information about the campaign’s impact so far
- Time to Change on twitter (main account & media advice account)
- Time to Change – media advisory service