by Amanda Kearney-Smith

The media is everywhere – online, t.v., magazine articles, newspaper, social media, etc. So you really can’t ignore it! Unfortunately the media often gets it wrong when it comes to mental health. And even more unfortunate is that our culture fears what it doesn’t know.

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Here are some facts on the impact of media¹:

  • Inaccurate, insensitive or sensationalist media reports can be significant consequences.
  • Research has shown that people who read negative articles about mental illness expressed more negative attitudes toward people with a mental illness.
  • Research has also shown that exposure to negative media stories had a direct effect on attitudes about people with mental illness, which was not altered by subsequent exposure to positive stories.
  • A 1997 study found that media accounts of mental illness that instill fear have a greater influence on public opinion than direct contact with people who have a mental illness.

Obviously the media has a great deal of influence on us and if it’s the only source of information someone has on mental health conditions, then we are in trouble. How can we change this? The Network has had some limited success with a few news media outlets but mostly it is an uphill battle.

It’s going to take all of us to make significant change – how can you help? Start making noise! Addressing insulting articles in the newspaper and/or responding to negative language used by news anchors or bloggers is one way to attack the stigma. It’s important that you address the media with your positive story of recovery (or that of your loved one) as an example of the reality of mental health conditions. We need people to know there is hope!

What is also important is that you don’t attack the individual and instead use a fact-based argument supported by personal experience. We have some great short videos on advocacy on our website that provide some guidance in this area.

Another great resource on media advocacy comes from the Prevention Institute – click here for their advocacy toolkit. They have some templates for writing letters to the editor and op ed article examples among other things.

Together we can spread our message and help the media see the other side of the issue.

  1. https://www.sane.org/changing-attitudes/841-examples-of-stigmatising-reporting-about-mental-illness-and-suicide
Why the Media is Holding us Back!
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Amanda Kearney-Smith

I founded the Network as the Executive Director in 2011 and, before that, I was a program director at Mental Health Colorado. My educational background is in Developmental Psychology, but living with bipolar disorder has drawn me to this work. I'm most passionate about protecting the civil rights and dignity of others. In my free time, I love reading, practicing yoga, and spending time with my family here and in Illinois.

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