Mental health problems in the UK are rising, with one quarter of adults dealing with depression. All mental health issues begin and end in the mind and so it is important to consider the impact we make when talking about mental health. Generally, the media report on mental health insensitively. They use triggering terms when referring to mental illness and brand people experiencing these issues as ‘psychopaths’ and ‘sociopaths’.
By doing this, media publications are creating a stigma around mental health and, perhaps inadvertently, making people more reluctant to discuss it. If you have a brain, you have a mental health, similar to if you have a body, you have a physical health and so we should discuss it openly.
When we talk about mental health, or write about it online, we need to do so sensitively. Fight Malaria is committed to discussing mental health and any sensitive issues seriously and with respect. And to achieve this, we abide by the rules set out in the Mental Health Media Charter.
The Mental Health Media Charter, created by Natasha Devon, offers a guide as to how to discuss mental health appropriately. Devon, a TV pundit and mental health advocate, joined forces with Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), Beat and The Samaritans to produce the guide which was published in late 2017.
What does it say?
The Mental Health Media Charter has eight key points and by endorsing the Charter, you are signalling that you, as an individual or publication, are committed to reporting stories relating to mental health responsibly. By signing the Charter, you also acknowledge the power and influence the media outlets have in terms of how they shape social attitudes through language and imagery. The Charter is about understanding this power and accepting responsibility for some of the societal damage caused.
One of the key points is for media outlets to differentiate between mental health and mental ill health. The Charter suggests that instead of using a common phrase such as ‘battles with mental health’ we should instead say that an individual has ‘issues with mental ill health’.
Another suggestion in the Charter is a call for publications to include links to good quality sources of support if the content they report on could be considered triggering. Similar to the BBC Action Line, media publications would be required to endorse support systems available for readers to use, such as The Samaritans or Young Minds.
The Charter isn’t asking media publications to avoid reporting on mental health problems in the UK, but rather do so sensitively, and a considerable amount of that is down to the wording of a piece of journalism. For example, the Charter says that media outlets should ‘understand that a person is distinct from their illness’. Therefore, if they were to produce an article on an individual suffering from an eating disorder, they should refer to that person as ‘suffering from…’ rather than labelling them ‘anorexic’, for example.
Another key focus of the Charter is to avoid detailing the methodology of suicide or self-harm and prioritise why an individual committed suicide, rather than how.
Who has signed it?
There are over 50 organisations and individuals who have signed the Charter. These include Grazia Magazine, Heat, Kerrang! Radio and Planet Rock Radio. But the Charter is not just restricted to media conglomerates with large viewership. The charter can be signed by individuals or organisations, including bloggers, youtubers and presenters.
Those who sign up will receive a specially designed ‘stamp of approval’ drawn by artist Rubyetc for them to promote via their website and social media. This ‘stamp of approval’ was printed on a number of promotional badges and sent out to organisations across the UK for their staff to wear. Fight Malaria was one of the recipients of these badges.
A number of media personalities have shared photographs of them wearing the badge on social media, including Countdown’s Rachel Riley.
The Charter has gained support from a number of individuals who have produced testimonials for the Charter’s Instagram page.
Sky News presenter and ambassador for the Mental Health Media Charter, Stephen Dixon said that:
“I think it’s really important that we understand more clearly what we’re talking about when it comes to mental health”
Broadcaster Lucy Beresford who hosts LBC’s Sex & Relationships phone-in show said that:
“the language that we use and the images we use when talking about, discussing, writing about mental health and mental illness are absolutely crucial”