Time To Change, The Media and Mental Health
Yesterday, Time to Change – a programme which aims to end discrimination faced by people with mental health problems – held a Meet the Media event for print journalists.
The event – which took place on the same day as a deal to regulate the press was struck – aimed to challenge the myths and misconceptions of mental health and allow journalists to learn more about mental health needs by meeting people with direct experience.
Journalist Mary O’Hara, who specialises in social affairs, spoke at the event and explained that her research has found that headlines and articles covering mental health have become more negative. And more worryingly, mental health coverage is often linked with violence.
Part of my job at Creative Support is to send out press releases about our latest events and achievements. Therefore, I keep a close eye on the way mental health is reported in the tabloids and local newspapers, and it has become clear to me that a story linking mental health and violence will make the front page, whereas a positive story about a local project raising money for charity will only make a small article hidden away on page 8 or 10. It was also noted at Time to Change’s event that local papers often cover mental health in a negative and sensationalist way.
So why is mental health often portrayed in such a negative way in the media? I don’t have all the answers to this question, but I recently attended a training course on writing press releases which helped to shed some light on the issue. During the course, we looked at what makes news – and controversial or scandalous stories often made the front pages.
However, other news angles were also picked up and reported. Obviously anything new makes a great news story, as does anything that is in the public interest. Equally, stories of heroic deeds and triumph over adversity produced positive press coverage. As a marketing and PR officer, it is my job to find these news angles and send out press releases promoting a more positive view of mental health.
As the journalist delivering the training explained, journalists are people too and they know that mental health is an important issue that deserves fair and responsible coverage. However, when they’re faced with a looming deadline and the prospect of a scandalous front page story, that belief can be quickly forgotten. Therefore, as PR officers and bloggers, it is up to us to produce positive stories and challenge negative misconceptions of mental health – and continue to challenge stigma and try to educate journalists.
Alastair Campbell – who hosted the Time to Change event – made the point that journalists who take up mental health issues will make a name for themselves and a difference. Let’s hope that national and local journalists take this on board and we begin to see a positive change in the press coverage of mental health.
Visit Time To Change to read their advice to the media.
By Claire Croskery, Marketing and PR Officer