Media coverage of mental health found to stigmatise people with mental health problems

24 January 2006

Media reporting can reinforce the prejudice suffered by people with severe mental health problems, according to a report published today.

Shift, a Government programme to reduce this stigma and discrimination, commissioned a survey of media coverage to establish whether changes in reporting could improve the lives of people with mental health problems.

The report, Mind Over Matter: Media Reporting of Mental Health, finds that common illnesses like depression and anxiety are covered in much the same way as other health conditions. However, media coverage of severe mental illness is still stigmatising.

The media tend to focus on rare incidents of violence linked to people with a mental health problem, feeding exaggerated public fears. The vast majority of people with severe mental health problems pose no threat to anyone.

Launching the report, Health Minister Rosie Winterton, said: "Journalists can be in the vanguard of change, driving a cultural shift in attitudes about mental health throughout society. But they can't do this alone.

"We all need to work to make change happen - the Government, mental health charities and the media. We in the Government are trying to do our part: we are working with young people in schools, with public services like the NHS and with employers to reduce discrimination against people with mental health problems.

"The challenge is now for us to work together to provide better and more balanced overall coverage of mental health problems. Together we can make a real difference to a great many people's lives."

The report found that people with a mental health problem were only quoted in six percent of stories. Raza Griffiths, 34, a mental health campaigner with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, said: "Coping with a mental health problem is difficult enough, but dealing with stigma makes it ten times harder."

Shift, a five-year programme run by the National Institute for Mental Health in England (NIMHE), is taking a series of steps to improve media reporting. They include:

  • giving people with mental health problems a voice by setting up a bureau of speakers who will speak to the media about their mental health
  • producing guidelines for journalists on how to report mental health issues without causing offence
  • working with the Department of Health to make it clear in public statements that violent crimes involving people with mental health issues are rare and need to be seen in perspective
  • monitoring media coverage, praising good and challenging bad coverage, and measuring against the benchmark of this report to see if there is any improvement over time

The report, an analysis of print and broadcast media coverage, was carried out on behalf of Shift by three national mental health charities, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Media and Rethink.

Paul Corry, head of campaigns at Rethink, said: "This report poses a real challenge that mental health organisations must rise to - helping the media to create space for the real-life experiences and views of people with severe mental illness to be heard."

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the National Union of Journalists, said: "Stigma blights the lives of far too many people experiencing mental ill health. The media have a vital role to play in helping reduce stigma and improving people's understanding of mental illness. The NUJ is committed to making this happen."

You can download the full report and Shift's summary below.

Download Mind over Matter summary (2.3 MB)

Download Mind over Matter full report (Word, 757 KB)