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Help tackle the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide.

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Promoting responsible reporting of mental illness and suicide in the Australian media.

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Updated weekly, The SANE Blog addresses day-to-day issues affecting people living with a mental illness.

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The media has an important role to play in influencing social attitudes towards and perceptions of mental illness - research shows that the media is an important source of information for many people about mental illness and suicide.

Good media reports about mental illness are responsible, accurate and balanced and help the community better understand the experience of mental illness. They encourage help-seeking behaviour by including additional information such as helpline numbers and websites for support services and often feature the perspective of people with mental illness, carers, mental health workers and organisations in the mental health sector.

It is a myth that suicide should not be reported. In fact, responsible reporting of suicide may reduce rates of incidence of suicide: a 1997 Australian study of reporting of Kurt Cobain’s suicide found that rates of suicide among 15 - 24 year olds fell during the month following reporting of Cobain’s death. Responsible reporting excludes details about method and location of suicide, and does not represent it in a sensational or glamorised way. It discusses the issue respectfully, considers known contributory factors and gives helpline contacts.

Examples of responsible reporting about mental illness

Destigmatises mental illness

Challenges myths and stereotypes associated with mental illness.

Raises awareness of the stigma against mental illness by highlighting examples within the media and community.

Challenges sensationalised media reporting linking mental illness with violence.

Humanises mental illness

Seeks to emphasise that mental illness is real, common and treatable.

Features stories about people with a mental illness playing an active role in the community.

Celebrates the achievements of people with a mental illness.

Emphasises the impact that mental illness has on family members, friends and carers.

Warns against judging people with mental illness.

Offers hope

Highlights stories about the successful management of mental illness.

Raises awareness about the challenges associated with managing a long-term mental illness.

Encourages people to seek help

Highlights the importance of recognising the early signs of mental illness.

Emphasises the importance of seeking treatment early.

Raises awareness about mental health services.

Encourages people in distress to seek help by providing helpline numbers.

Accuracy

Provides accurate information about mental illness and specific mental disorders.

Bases information on reliable sources such as recommended experts.

Allows people who have experienced mental illness to tell their own stories.

Highlights the complexity of mental illness. The term ‘mental illness’ covers a wide range of symptoms, conditions, and effects on people’s lives.

Responsible reporting about suicide

Accuracy

Seeks to report on suicide sensitively and accurately, providing balance and context.

Positioning of story

Discusses the underlying causes of suicide.

Provides context about the death and its relationship to mental illness and social issues.

Respectfully pays tribute to the life of the individual, rather than focussing on the death.

Highlights the long-term negative impact on family, friends and the community.

Language

Minimises use of the word ‘suicide’ in headlines.

Does not glamorise or normalise the act by not using terms such as ‘successful suicide’ and ‘suicide epidemic’.

Does not describe, display or photograph the location of method of suicide. If important to the story, discusses the method and location in general terms only.

Celebrity suicide

Does not glamorise celebrity suicide or prompt imitation suicide.

Report a media item to StigmaWatch

2016 Stigma Files2015 Stigma FilesMost popular Stigma Files

Inaccurate, insensitive or sensationalist media reports on mental illness and suicide can have significant consequences: research has shown that people who read negative articles about mental illness expressed more negative attitudes toward people with a mental illness.

Research has also shown that exposure to negative media stories had a direct effect on attitudes about people with mental illness, which was not altered by subsequent exposure to positive stories.

Most concerningly, a 1997 study found that media accounts of mental illness that instil fear have a greater influence on public opinion than direct contact with people who have a mental illness.

Examples of stigmatising media reporting

Mocking mental illness

Mocks or trivialises mental illness.

Misuse of medical terminology

Misuses medical terms which mock or trivialise mental illness.

Misuses medical terminology which perpetuates misconceptions about mental illness.

Uses the word ‘psycho’. Media reports frequently confuse ‘psychosis’ (which refers to psychotic mental illness) and ‘psychopath’ (which relates to extreme violence and anti social behaviour, not mental illness).

Implies that all mental illnesses are the same - the term ‘mental illness’ covers a wide range of symptoms, conditions, and effects on people’s lives.

Demeaning language

Uses inappropriate and outdated terms such as ‘mental patient’, ‘nutter’, ‘lunatic’, ‘psycho’, ‘schizo’ and ‘mental institution’ - this language stigmatises mental illness and perpetuates discrimination.

Victimising language

Refers to someone with a mental illness as a ‘victim’, or is ‘suffering with’ or ‘afflicted by’ a mental illness.

Defines people by their mental illness: e.g. referring to a person as ‘a schizophrenic’ (alternatives include the person ‘has schizophrenia’, is ‘affected by mental illness’ or ‘lives with schizophrenia’).

Sensationalist reporting

Reports on tragedies involving untreated mental illness without context. This often contributes to community fear about people with a mental illness, if they are not reported within context. People receiving treatment for mental illnesses are no more violent or dangerous than anyone else; in fact they are more likely to be the victims of violence than the attackers.

Accuracy

Reports myths or misconceptions about mental illness.

Interviewees

Fails to secure informed consent from interviewees with a mental illness or exploits a person's vulnerability or ignorance of media practice.

Examples of harmful reporting about suicide

Method and location

Describes, displays or photographs the location or method of a suicide.

Language

Repeatedly uses the term ‘suicide’ in a media reports – the word should be used sparingly (alternatives include ‘died by suicide’ or ‘took his/her own life’).

Uses the word ‘suicide’ in a headline – this can contribute to glamorising and normalising suicide and may attract vulnerable people to the story.

Uses the phrases ‘unsuccessful suicide’ or ‘failed suicide attempt’ - this places a value on the act (alternatives include ‘tried to end their life’ or ‘non-fatal’).

Sensationalises or glamorises suicide.

Celebrity suicide

Glamorises celebrity suicide.

Lack of context

Suggests a suicide might be the result of a single factor or event – for example, a job loss or relationship breakdown. Many people who die by suicide have a mental disorder, a drug-related illness or other familial or social risk factors.

Positioning of the story

Gives stories about suicide prominent placement (e.g. front page of newspaper or magazine or lead items on TV or radio news).

Euthanasia

Provides explicit details of method of death and/or repeatedly references the term suicide.

Picture This is the first national research project to investigate the way mental illness is visually portrayed in Australia.

A joint partnership between SANE Australia and Getty Images, the project surveyed more than 5,000 Australians to find out what they thought was a fair and accurate representation of mental illness.

The results showed that Australians want to see images of real people which convey a sense of both struggle and hope.

Based on these results, SANE has developed five recommendations to guide photographers and publishers in portraying mental illness fairly and accurately.

To find out more about the survey and get involved:

Image: iStock/Astova

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