Mental health and the media – is there still stigma?

1st July 2017

By Alice Kay 

Last month, Stempra ran a fascinating event on mental health in the media, which featured a broad panel of experts including mental health press officers, scientists, and journalists. The focus of the event was whether there was still stigma in mental health coverage and this led to a lively and in-depth discussion about the quantity and nature of mental health coverage, confusion about what language and terminology to use, and the different perceptions for different mental illnesses such as depression vs schizophrenia. The panel unanimously agreed that media coverage of mental illnesses has improved dramatically over the last decade, and the interest in such stories had never been higher. Although a good thing and indicative that stigma towards mental illnesses may have reduced, it was clear that media coverage alone would never eradicate stigma in the public and so the mental health community must continue to engage more broadly.

There was also a debate on whether a special case should be for mental illnesses, or whether they should be covered in the same way as physical illnesses such as cancer. Although the panel had slightly differing views, there was broad agreement that at some point mental illnesses should be seen as no different to physical illnesses, but that we perhaps weren’t quite at that stage yet and press officers still had to be sensitive of stigma. Emphasis was also placed on the need for good quality evidence to come to the fore, and increasing knowledge as well as simple awareness was crucial. That could include also increased scrutiny from the media, and at some point the appetite for mental health stories could be completely satisfied- though we don’t seem to be there just yet!

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