Media Reporting: Tackling Stigma Against Mental Illness and Suicide
Post 2 of 2
During my visit to SANE head office in Melbourne, Sarah Coker (the Suicide Prevention Co-ordinator) introduced me to her colleague Robyn Thompson (the Media Relations Manager) who is employed to monitor and respond to inaccurate or inappropriate stigmatising of mental illness and suicide in the media. SANE, Australia refer to this component of their work as ‘StigmaWatch ’( http://www.sane.org/stigmawatch).
‘StigmaWatch’ evolved as a direct result of numerous individuals within the community who complained about the way in which the media portrayed the mentally ill. Communities are now encouraged to inform ‘StigmaWatch’ if they read, hear or see a portrayal of mental illness or suicide in the media that they believe is inaccurate, irresponsible or offensive via the following link (http://www.sane.org/stigmawatch/report-a-media-item). These reports are then investigated, and if validated, ‘StigmaWatch’ will contact the relevant parties in the media to inform them of their concerns.
SANE have demonstrated many ways in which they have helped reduce stigma. The following sequence of events highlight how SANE’s initiative to reduce stigma in the media have resulted in a government funded service, entitled ‘Mindframe’ being funded to address the above mentioned issues:
1999 SANE Australia launched StigmaWatch, which focussed on all forms of media reporting of mental illness and suicide;
2000 Australian government established ‘Mindframe’ to address stigma as part of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy;
2001 The Department of Health and Ageing invited StigmaWatch to become part of Mindframe; and
2006 SANE Australia, established the SANE Media Centre, which provides accurate information to the media and support and guidance to mental health professionals is now part of the media centre. The SANE Media Centre is now an integral part of the ‘Mindframe’ initiative.
During my visit I was also given a handbook entitled ‘ Mental Illness and Suicide: A Mindframe Resource for Stage and Screen’ It has been developed in collaboration with the Hunter Institute of Mental Health (Australia) in partnership with the Australian Writer’s Guild, SANE Australia and the Department of Health and Ageing. The development of the resource was assisted by script writers, people who have suffered mental health problems, carers and mental health professionals.
The launch of the recent National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England (DH, 2012) highlighted the importance of ‘supporting the media in developing sensitive approaches to suicide and suicidal behaviour’(DH, 2012). I believe much could be learnt if those responsible for the implementation of the suicide prevention strategy focussed their attention on the excellent work that is being conducted by SANE Australia and the way in which the Australian government have developed and funded Mindframe, which specifically focuses on media reporting of mental health issues and suicide.
Please note, I have written a previous post that focuses on two high profile suicides that have been reported by the Australian media, whilst I have been travelling Australia. That particular post highlights both good and bad practice that has occurred when referring to issues surrounding suicide and those subsequently bereaved.
I would like to thank Sarah Coker (SANE’S Suicide Prevention Co-ordinator) for finding the time to meet me in her busy schedule. I am truly inspired by the work that Sarah is doing. I would also like to thank Robyn Thompson (SANE’s Media Relations Manager) for informing me about ‘StigmaWatch’.
The following links will provide additional information about the above mentioned:
DH, (2012), The Prevention of Suicide in England; A Cross-government outcome strategy to save lives. https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/216928/Preventing-Suicide-in-England-A-cross-government-outcomes-strategy-to-save-lives.pdf
SANE Media Centre: www.sane.org/sane-media