Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Getting the message

One of my friends who has done some thoughtful analysis of media reports on mental health pointed out the Globe and Mail of January 14, 2012 had a piece tucked away at the top of page F4 called “From Evil to Mentally Ill in the Media”. I found the reading of it interesting, particularly in light of my last blog on the role of media in addressing mental health problems and stigmatization that media reports can create.

The reporter, Erin Anderssen, comments on a study conducted in Montreal in which around nine thousand Canadian media stories pertaining to mental illness and found that only 12 percent took an optimistic or positive tone. About one-third use derogatory language in referring to people with a mental illness and about 40 percent related mental illness to violence and criminality. Wow! 

Although I am disappointed to read that data, I am not surprised by it. Why should the media harbor less stigma than the population in general? Should we expect reporters to know more about mental illness and write about it from a base of some expertise? The Carter Center in the United States of America has some very interesting programs in mental health literacy designed to better inform and educate reporters, with the expressed hope that once this happens their reporting will be more accurate and less stigmatizing,  this includes the Rosalynn CarterFellowships for Mental Health Journalism. Perhaps we need a similar program here in Canada.

That same page in the Globe carried a thoughtful and constructively critical story written by Erin Anderssen about a young man named Michael Kimber who has taken his story public, and how that story is making a difference. 

In my opinion, we need more Michael Kimbers and we need more journalists like Erin Anderssen.


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