It’s easy to think that, if we don’t work in mental health (or with mental health clients), that mental health media portrayals are beyond our remit. However, there are two key reasons why a basic understanding of responsible mental health reporting is paramount.
quarter of us are likely to experience a mental health problem – meaning that
you or your loved ones are likely to engage in the conversation at some point
Secondly, mental health problems are often used as descriptors in non-mental health stories and conversations. So it’s possible to use mental health stigma even if we’re not setting out to write on the topic.
To give this
Have you ever
heard anyone say, ‘God, she’s so tachycardic’ as a way to describe somebody’s
Yet with mental
health, it’s sadly still a part of today’s society to sometimes describe people
as a mental health problem.
OCD, she’s like Monica from Friends’.
depressed, I missed Love Island.’
So it’s worth
being aware of mental health media best practice – even if you’re not working
in the sector.
In 2017. activist and writer, Natasha Devon, launched the Mental Health Media Charter – a set of commitments that anyone working in media or PR can sign up to and ensure that mental health portrayals are responsibly communicated.
Given the fact
that poor mental health descriptors and some of the outdated mental health
phrases are still very much alive and in use, it’s easy to use them without
thinking about them.
For example, describing somebody who has taken their own life as having ‘committed suicide’ harks back to the days when taking your own life was a criminal offence. The law changed many decades ago, but the terminology stuck. It is better in this instance to say ‘died by suicide’.
mis-representing a TV character as being ‘psychotic’ rather than ‘psychopathic’
(as was the case in the media re Jodie
Comer’s character, Villanelle in Killing Eve) can be really
upsetting to people who do live with psychosis – which is a collection of
symptoms that make people far more vulnerable, not far more violent,
than the wider community. Linking the term ‘psychosis’ to a psychopathic serial
killer like Villanelle can cause people to feel ashamed and stigmatised, and
can influence discrimination and isolation by others.
As an agency, NGI Solutions is working with Newcastle United Foundation on its #BEAGAMECHANGER campaign – a project that raises awareness of mental health problems and encourages Newcastle United fans to speak more openly about mental health generally.
important that we represent the campaign and our case study volunteers fairly
and responsibly. However, we have signed up to the Mental Health Media Charter
to ensure that we practice these communications principles in all areas of our
Signing up to
the charter doesn’t mean you’ll be policed and hung out to dry if you make a
mistake. What it does mean is that you will have access to simple guidance to
inform your communications, and that you are committed to doing your best to
portray mental health accurately and in a non-stigmatising way.
So, I’d urge
anyone working in or with the media to check out the guidance.
At the very least, it will help you with a conversation you are bound to have
at some point with a friend, colleague or family member who is struggling with
a mental health problem.