Responsibly report on mental illness

Journalists often find reporting on mental illness a challenge for many reasons. They may find it hard to source interviewees, as many people are reluctant to comment publically on their personal experiences or symptoms. Often the issues are complex - with confusing terminology and definitions, along with conflicting facts or statements - which are tough to condense and report in a succinct, timely manner.

SANE StigmaWatch encourages Australian journalists to report responsibly on mental illness. A well-balanced and responsible report can reduce stigma, increase community understanding and encourage people living with a mental illness, and their carers, to share their stories.

To increase community understanding of mental illness and limit the spread of inaccurate stereotypes, StigmaWatch advises journalists and the media of inappropriate and stigmatising reports. As the Mindframe Media Monitoring Project states:

'The issue is that inappropriate and inaccurate reporting, especially inaccurate and negative stereotyping, over the longer term may lead audiences to accept particular interpretations of mental illness, such as, for example, seeing all people with schizophrenia as violent and dangerous.'

Journalists looking to report on mental illness, or interview a person with experience of mental illness, can source advice and recommendations from the Mindframe media guidelines.

Mindframe media guidelines

The Mindframe Reporting Suicide and Mental Illness guidelines encourage the Australian media to responsibly report on mental illness by:

  • Respecting a person’s privacy by considering the newsworthiness of a person’s mental illness, remembering the potential personal impact of making the facts public
  • Choosing not to use language which stigmatises mental illness
  • Including contact details for support services, which provides support for people who may have been distressed or prompted to seek help

Positive reportage

Recent examples of responsible reporting on mental illness can be found in the Medical Observer's piece regarding the representation of mental illness on television, the Triple J Hack report regarding youth mental health and Peter Munro’s article profiling Federal Liberal MP Andrew Robb. Both examples discuss the issues fairly, using personal accounts and providing information about symptoms and treatment.

Other examples are found under Good News Stories.