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The responsible portrayal of mental illness when covering crime

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The responsible reporting of mental illness when covering crime

Issue: The suspected murder of a young women in Melbourne saw the alleged perpetrator apprehended by police within 24 hours. Soon after the arrest, the media began reporting that the suspect was a ‘diagnosed schizophrenic’ who had recently been released from a mental health facility. The majority of media coverage about this incident placed an emphasis on the suspect’s diagnosis, rather than on the crime itself.

StigmaWatch regularly receives reports from the community regarding media items that have originated from overseas publications that contains content that is stigmatising, and potentially dangerous if read by those living with mental health issues or suicidal ideation.

Result: StigmaWatch contacted a number of media outlets and explained the importance of not labelling a person by their mental illness and highlighted why it is important to avoid making a link between mental illness and crime. Two major media outlets were receptive to the recommendations provided by StigmaWatch and edited their reporting to reflect these suggestions.

Why it mattered? By placing a focus on the suspect’s diagnosis rather than on the crime that occurred, it unfairly perpetuates the myth that those living with certain mental health conditions are violent.

Media Feedback: We agree with your concerns about describing the man as schizophrenic instead of saying he had schizophrenia. Obviously, no-one should be defined by their illness, condition, race or other. I have put out a note to the newsroom reminding them to take care in these circumstances.” – Editor, major news outlet.

Last updated: 9 May 2019