Mental Illness & The Media: Time For Reflection?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Although newspaper and other media outlets have improved markedly in their reporting of mental illness over the last number of years, there is still a huge amount of work to be done.  That is why the Joseph Howe Symposium, held yesterday in Halifax, Canada, was so important.  The message that emerged is clear: journalists need to do a better job covering violent crimes involving mentally ill people.  Herald News staff reporter, Michael Lightstone made the point that ‘using proper context when describing such incidents, doing relevant research and providing readers, viewers or listeners with responsible, non-sensational reporting helps to better inform the public’.  And so it does. There are still too many people who equate mental illness with violence, fueling the vicious cycle of stigma, fear and misunderstanding.

Lightstone goes on to write, in his article entitled ‘Media’s coverage of mental illness needs work, Halifax symposium hears’: ‘Complete, well-balanced and factual stories are what’s needed in today’s get-it-first, social media-influenced, multi-platform world of the 24-hour news cycle. That’s the message attendees heard loudly and clearly from a panel covering violence and mental illness’. He went on to write that ‘reporters and editors were advised to avoid simplistic reportage, speculation and deliberately provocative accounts or headlines’.

Let’s hope this message gets a wider audience beyond Canada.  Beyond issues of violence and mental health there is much work to be done.  Lightstone does a good job of acknowledging this when he writes: ‘Michael MacDonald, a journalist with The Canadian Press in Halifax, said he’d like to see his employer authorize more positive stories about mental illness, such as reports about successful recoveries’.

In the realm of mental illness there are myriad examples of recovery, lives rebuilt and inspirational examples of people making a real difference to the society they are living in.  Our media needs to reflect this reality more clearly and to help shift perception to where it should be – informed by facts and not by fear.

You can read Lightstone’s article here: http://thechronicleherald.ca/metro/1246518-media-s-coverage-of-mental-illness-needs-work-halifax-symposium-hears

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