Dr Andrew Mayers

Mental health and the media

Media links

My mental health campaigning work frequently attracts the attention of local and national media. Please click here to see an overview of radio, TV, and other media appearances.

If we are to change negative public perceptions of mental health, one of our priority targets must be the media. All too often, the images portrayed by newspapers and television are stereotypical and inaccurate. We need to educate people in the media - editors, journalists, reporters, academics, and students - about the best way to accurately portray mental health. Even the images that are used to portray people with mental illness need careful attention, as was highlighted by the insightful campaign by Time to Change.

Mental Health in the Media seminar

To illustrate some examples of how the media portrays mental health, I teamed up with my good friend Paul Scates to deliver a seminar to academics and students from the Media School at Bournemouth University, on World Mental Health Day 2013. You can access the presentation slides from that seminar here. We presented the work around the time of the (now infamous) Halloween Costume incident. However abhorrent these costumes were in the way that they reinforced negative images of mental health, many of us were heartened by the intense social media campaign that led Asda to donate a significant sum of money to Mind (the mental health charity). It was also in the week that The Sun informed us that some 1200 people had been 'killed' by ''mental patients'. That was, perhaps, mental health reporting at its worst (although it has to be said that The Sun has made amends more recently, as you can see later on this page). Other newspapers, such as the Daily Telegraph, sought to challenge The Sun, but provided little positive evidence. Besides, they are not adverse to reporting negative images - as shown in this article. Conversely, a report from The Guardian was much better, with a measured, well-reported, and evidence-based article.

An excellent set of guidelines on reporting mental health has been provided by Mind - see here.

Examples of mental health in the media

As we have seen, newspapers are often inconsistent in the way in which they report mental health. However, I am frequently impressed by the frequent reports in The Guardian's excellent mental health section.

We saw a poor example of reporting from The Sun, but they have raised their game recently - most notably with the excellent feature on the Time to Talk Day campaign. Indeed, that campaign raised some very encouraging positive messages from many newspapers (such as Metro).

That last example also illustrates the power of social media. Much was tweeted on Twitter and posted on Facebook about #TimeToTalk Day from Time to Change (February, 6th 2014). But, perhaps the most uplifting example came from the astonishing #FindMike campaign. Supported by Rethink Mental Illness, this story described Jonny Benjamin's mission to find the good Samaritan who intervened in Jonny's suicide attempt six years previously (following a diagnosis of a psychotic disorder). The journey to find 'Mike' was covered in countless newspaper articles and featured on ITV Daybreak. However, it was the incredible power of networking through social media that provided the greatest support. Above all else, the #FindMike campaign raised excellent awareness for mental health and suicide. Here are some examples from the media:

ITV Daybreak - Looking for 'Mike'

ITV Daybreak - 'Mike' (Neil) is found

The Independent

The Guardian

Daily Mirror

Metro

Did you notice how the Independent and Guardian articles included telephone number support details - to the likes of Samaritans and Rethink? That's good reporting of mental health and suicide.

And the message reached across the world...

USA

Australia

Current media reports

I frequently 'tweet' examples of media reporting of mental health. Please follow me on Twitter to keep up to date with that - @DrAndyMayers

What next?

Paul Scates and I would like to take our 'media reporting of mental health' workshops on the road, but need funding and publicity. Please let me know if you can help us.

e-mail: amayers@bournemouth.ac.uk

Twitter: @DrAndyMayers