There’s Someone Behind The Screen: Mental Health and the Media

The internet and use of social media has become an incredibly powerful and influential tool when it comes to educating others about mental health, and raising awareness of the issue. We, as a social media campaign, wouldn’t exist without it and so for that we are very grateful.

However, there are important guidelines that need to be followed and considered when writing about mental health. With great influence, comes great responsibility, and with so many of us experiencing or having experienced mental health issues, it’s worth taking the time getting it right.

Time To Change have come up with some really helpful guidelines which are as follows;

  • Is it relevant to the story that the featured person has a mental illness?
  • Don’t speculate about someone’s mental health being a factor in the
    story unless you know this to be 100% true.
  • Don’t provide an ‘on air’ diagnosis or encourage ‘experts’ to do so.
  • Is it appropriate for the person’s mental illness to be mentioned in the
    headline or lead?
  • Who are your sources? Can you rely on eyewitnesses or neighbours
    to provide facts or has an assumption been made about someone’s
    mental health status?
  • Include contextualising facts. Remember people with severe mental
    illnesses are more likely to be victims – rather than perpetrators –
    of violent crime.
  • Consider consulting people with mental health problems as part of your
    research, not just as case studies. They are experts on their own conditions.

With so many people now spending so much time online, it’s vital that mental health is portrayed in the right way. With the continual rise of fake news and click-bait this is becoming increasingly hard as the temptation to sensationalise headlines heightens, to get readers in. This can cause great harm and has the potential to have drastic consequences.

Moreover, regarding the reporting of self-harm and suicide, care needs to be taken to ensure warnings are in place and that the article will not trigger any vulnerable persons.

We ourselves experienced the effects of this after a PR article about our founder, Gracie, was published with a headline that focused not on the work she was trying to achieve with this campaign, but her very personal struggles with mental illness. She was left feeling triggered by her past, angry at the media, and concerned for anyone else who may have been affected by the headline. It has since been changed, but some damage had already been done.

All too often it is easy to separate ourselves from what we see in the media, or what we are publishing, but it’s important to remember that there is always someone behind the screen. How is what you’re saying going to affect them, or make them feel? Will the impact be positive or negative? Pay special attention to case studies you include and make sure they are portrayed in a way that is comfortable with them.

We are all, after all, only human – it’s important that we look after each other.

Some further links for help on this are;

Mind: How To Report On Mental Health

National Union of Journalists: Mental Health & Suicide Guidelines




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