We never dreamt last year that we would once again be hosting the Headline Mental Health Media Awards virtually, but we were delighted that so many people could join us in spite of this. We’re grateful for everyone’s support as we navigated the twists and turns of planning the MHMAs. 

Once again, the ceremony was expertly led by Anton Savage, whose style and humour led us through the technical difficulties to capture the emotional and uplifting tone of the occasion.  

Anton Savage opens the awards

Sarah Stack, Communications & Policy Manager, Samaritans Ireland, and MHMA 2021 judge  

Sarah Stack, MHMA 2021 Judge, spoke about the exceptional standard of content this year across all categories and all forms of media. The content was diverse and ranged from engaging interviews with people who have experienced mental ill health through to meticulously researched exposés of Ireland’s mental health system. The judges felt the content as a whole was raw, engaging and provocative, while at the same time being strong, fair and thorough.

Thank You

One of the wonderful benefits of working at Headline is that we often get to hear stories from members of the public who have been positively impacted by something they have read, heard or seen in the media. The work the media do is incredibly important – both for enhancing understanding of mental ill health and suicide and for exposing the challenges that exist in our mental health services and working towards changing them.

We received especially powerful testimony this year from some of the people whose lived experience of mental ill health features in the shortlisted pieces. Some of this testimony was included in a ‘thank you’ video shown during the ceremony. For many of these people, the experience of engaging with the media was not just positive, but empowering and in some cases, life-changing. 

Here’s what they had to say:

-‘Every single time that a producer or a presenter or a journalist in the paper rings me and asks for my story, not only are you giving me a platform and helping me to help others, you’re also telling me that I’m important, that what I have to say matters’

-‘They made me feel that this isn’t about just having a good interview – this is about trying to reach people, and to tell a story that’s going to change people’s lives.’

-‘Her [award nominee’s] contribution to my life in such a short space of time has been phenomenal, and I will always be grateful to her.’

-‘Just…you feel human, that’s probably the best way to put it. [The interview] really done a lot for me.’

-‘Media reporting things like this means I’m not on my own, I’m not the only one, I am not the bad person that I thought I was.’

-‘The people…when they were sitting down looking at this…they then could feel, it’s just not me, I’m not the only one in this dark place, there is other people there, and if I could pick up the phone and talk to somebody or speak to a member of my family or a friend, that would be the first step’

-‘It made me feel that I wasn’t alone. It’s okay for what I’m feeling. It made me feel that it’s an illness, and I can go and seek help. And that’s when I decided to reach out to my GP and have those conversations, and I truly believe that article saved my life.’

-‘I thought…they’re able to speak out, they’re able to talk about this. There must be a way to get better, and I must find that way to get better, and I must fight for my life, to stay well and get better.’

Mental health in the media

Áine O’Meara, Headline’s Programme Leader, commented that year-on-year, we’re seeing an increasing number of mental health stories being shared in the media but that the diversity of those experiences isn’t necessarily where it needs to be yet. The more understanding people have of mental health and mental illness, the less stigma there will be in talking about it or in seeking help – this includes all experiences of mental ill health.

Áine used the event this year to unveil Headline’s Severe Mental Health Conditions, Trauma and Media Participation: A Practice Guide for Media Professionals. This is a new resource co-produced by media professionals and mental health advocates to support journalists who want to address the current imbalance and misrepresentation of particular mental health experiences. This guide – the first of its kind globally – and the research that informed it were created in partnership with Quality Matters.

Also in attendance at the event were Nicola Byrne from Shine and Barbara Brennan and Shauna O’Connor from See Change. Ciaran Austin represented the National Office for Suicide Prevention, Headline’s chief funders. The Mental Health Media Awards Judging Panel for 2021 also attended.

Winners 2021

This year’s Mental Health Content – Digital Award went to A Lust for Life for their interactive Instagram Live on the topic of ‘Intrusive Thoughts’. This piece featured Zach and Mairéad bravely sharing their experiences with OCD, an illness that is still frequently misunderstood and quite heavily stigmatised. Their clear-spoken stories of hope and recovery could help both those living with this illness and others who want to learn about it. The approach taken here – a live session with real-time input from people watching – was engaging, highly interactive and refreshing, and it hugely impressed the judges who felt it was an excellent use of the platform and available technology.  

Fiona McGarry of the Clare Champion won the Local Print and Online Award for her report, ‘Letting a light shine for fellow survivors’. The judges felt that this honest, heartfelt and compelling piece gave an invaluable insight into the real impact of sexual violence and rape on a person’s mental health. It explored Martin’s progression through various supports, toward his own recovery, and in a way that will be informative, hopeful and destigmatising for others. The Clare Champion were commendable in providing a voice to Martin originally some years ago, and have diligently returned to his experiences in this piece, to allow him to ‘shine his light’ once again.  

Fiona McGarry, winner of the Local Print/Online Award


The winner of the Mental Health Broadcasting – Short Form Award was PJ Coogan for Cork’s 96FM for an episode of Opinion Line entitled Owenacurra residents devastated by proposed closure which focused on the closing of a local mental health service and its impact on the community. The judges commented that this piece was a strong human-interest story which gave long term health care residents a voice, respecting how they felt and what they wanted. They felt it really tried to understand why this facility was closing and was well told from point of view of the patients, their family members and staff.

The Voice Media Award category was developed and judged in collaboration with See Change – The National Stigma Reduction Partnership. It recognises the coverage that a broadcaster or publication has given to those with self-experience of a mental health difficulty. The winner of this category was The Pat Kenny Show. The judges for this award felt that the team at The Pat Kenny Show worked collaboratively with people who wanted to share their stories of mental ill health, and that they did this with genuine care and support for each of them.

Pat Kenny of The Pat Kenny Show, which won this year’s Voice Award

The Headline Special Recognition Award was created to acknowledge the vital contribution that people with lived experience make to media representations of mental health difficulties. Without them, many of these stories couldn’t be told. For sharing her unique perspective on the difficulty of accessing Irish mental health services as a Deaf woman, the winner of this award was Karen Sinnott for her interview, ‘A Voice in the Dark’ featured in New Ross Standard. The judges felt that Karen Sinnott showed great strength and bravery in sharing her powerful story and commented that it had given them a whole new perspective on the extra challenges that come with accessing mental health services in Ireland as a Deaf person. All of the judges were profoundly moved by the courage and honesty displayed throughout this piece.

Karen Sinnott, winner of the Special Recognition Award and Vanessa O’Connell, her sign-language interpreter

The winners of the Mental Health Content – Special Interest category were Paul Fennessy and Karen Leach for their article ‘I do not want any other child, any other young person or athlete to go through what I went through’ for The42.ie. The judges were struck by the overwhelming sense of trust between the authors of this article. They found it an incredibly moving piece with extraordinary depth and heart. They all agreed that it was a hugely powerful and important piece of journalism in its focus on the long-term impact of trauma experienced after abuse.

For the Mental Health Broadcasting – Long Form Award, the winner was Outlier Collective for their RTÉ documentary I’m Fine. This captivating series impressed the judges with honest and articulate accounts of a variety of mental health and suicide experiences. The four contributors were remarkable, and shared their realities with momentous truth and authenticity. Together, with the warm, sensitive and empathic production values, viewers were brought on a journey that was difficult and dark at times – but ultimately these were stories that radiated with a sense of empowerment, wellness, recovery and hope. 

Patrick Freyne, winner of the National Print/Online Award

The National Print or Online Journalism Award was won by Patrick Freyne for his article in The Irish Times, ‘Ireland mental health pandemic: from crisis to emergency’. Patrick placed lived experience front and centre in this piece about mental health services in Ireland. The judges felt this was a very strong piece of journalism. The reporter took a very fair approach to an important subject matter and was very thorough, comprehensive and independent. The piece was meticulously researched, featured input from contributors with lived experience of mental ill health, and clearly reflected all sides of the issue.

The Headline Impact Award, which recognises a content creator, commissioning editor, individual producer or programme who has made an exceptional contribution to coverage of mental ill health, went to Tommy Tiernan for The Tommy Tiernan Show. The judges were all struck by Tommy’s natural ability to elicit authentic conversations, to probe and to comfort in one breath, and to bring into our homes stories of ordinary people with extraordinary experiences. The space given to people to share their personal experiences of mental ill health, from loneliness to trauma to suicidal thoughts, speaks to the huge impact of The Tommy Tiernan Show, both on the interviewees themselves and audiences at home.  

Full 2021 Shortlist with winners

Mental Health Journalism | Local Print/Online

For a single print or online news report or feature, published in a regional or local news outlet, that deals with stories, topics or issues in, about or related to mental ill health.

I was abused. But I am not broken. My life isn’t destroyed, Claire Ronan for Sligo Weekender

Struggle of watching a friend fade away by Ann Murphy for The Echo

Letting a light shine for fellow survivors, Fiona McGarry for The Clare Champion (Winner)

Galway’s mental health services ‘creaking’, Dara Bradley for Galway City Tribune

Tragedy of McGinley children could have been avoided with more transparent mental health treatment, Jacqueline Hogge for The Tuam Herald

Mental Health Broadcasting | Short Form

For a single factual television or radio feature/documentary related to mental ill health.

Lack of funding for Ireland’s eating disorder treatment plan revealed, Paul O’Donoghue for Newstalk

Owenacurra residents devastated by proposed closure, PJ Coogan for Cork’s 96FM (Winner)

A mother failed by mental health services, Pat Kenny for Newstalk

‘I lost my Dad and my best friend’, Sheila Naughton for Northern Sound

Nationwide: Farmers’ Awareness Head to Toe group, Mary Fanning for RTÉ

Mental Health Content | Digital

For websites, podcasts, interactive online features, apps, interactive documentaries and other digital technologies that use creative and innovative techniques and content to extend knowledge and understanding of, and engagement with, mental ill health.

Overcoming Social Anxiety, Blindboy Boatclub for The Blindboy Podcast

Intrusive Thoughts, A Lust for Life on Instagram Live (Winner)

‘What’s the Story with Therapy, Mark?’, Stefanie Preissner for Basically with Stefanie Preissner

Pieta Special – Boys Don’t Cry, Jan Ní Fhlanagáin for You OK?, an RTÉ podcast

Brian Pennie: Bonus Time, Síle Seoige for Ready to Be Real

Special Recognition

For an individual with lived experience of mental ill health who, in their own words, shares their story to help and educate a wider audience.

Sophie White for ‘I have what she had’ featured in Irish Independent

Karen Sinnott for ‘A voice in the dark’ featured in New Ross Standard (Winner)

Blessing Dada for ‘Courage’ featured on A Lust for Life’s Selfie Show

Karen Leach for ‘I do not want any other child, any other young person or athlete to go through what I went through’ featured in The42.ie

Hazel Katherine Larkin for ‘Mother who considered killing herself and her children says mental health services failed her’ featured on The Pat Kenny Show

Headline Voice Media Award in partnership with See Change

For a publisher, in print or online, or broadcaster who has demonstrated excellence in the quality and quantity of coverage given to people with self-experience of mental ill health.

Voices in TheJournal.ie with Laura Byrne

The Pat Kenny Show with Newstalk (Winner)

Irish Independent Health and Living with Yvonne Hogan

Image Magazine with Amanda Cassidy

Take a Break with Newstalk

Mental Health Broadcasting | Long Form

For a factual journalistic or magazine programme broadcast on television or radio, either standalone or one episode from a series, that deals with current stories, topics or issues in, about or related to mental ill health.

Eating with the Enemy: Episode 4, Debbie Thornton & Jean Devlin for Virgin Media Television

Concerns over Child Mental Health Services in Kerry, Treasa Murphy for Radio Kerry

Sport Stories: Oisín McConville, Conan Doherty for Virgin Media Television

I’m Fine, Outlier Collective for RTÉ (The Lab and RTÉ Player) (Winner)

Laochra Gael: Eoin Larkin, Ronan O’Donoghue & Hugh Walsh for TG4

Mental Health Journalism | National Print/Online

For a single print or online news report or feature, published in a national news outlet, that deals with stories, topics or issues in, about or related to mental ill health.

‘During lockdown, my 11-year-old was hospitalised with an eating disorder’, Meg Walker for The Irish Times 

Nobody Tells You… what it’s like to be in a mental hospital, Sophie White for The Sunday Independent

Living with bipolar disorder: ‘It is important for people to know that it is possible to have a mostly stable, happy life with this diagnosis’, Arlene Harris for Irish Independent 

Ireland’s mental health pandemic: from crisis to emergency, Patrick Freyne for The Irish Times (Winner)

Suicide organisations warn of exaggerated or false information being shared online, Sean Murray for TheJournal.ie

Mental Health Content | Special Interest

For a feature article (550 words or longer) published in print or online that deals with stories, topics or issues in, about or related to mental health. This may include specialist features such as sport, music, food and health and may be published across any platform, including newspaper supplements or magazines.

Headline Impact Award

For a broadcaster, publisher or individual working in any platform who has made an exceptional contribution to the national conversation around mental ill health.

Stefanie Preissner for Basically with Stefanie Preissner

Tommy Tiernan for The Tommy Tiernan Show (Winner)

Michelle Heffernan for work across multiple outlets

Damian Cullen for The Irish Times Health & Family

Joe Finnegan for The Joe Finnegan Show

Meet the Judges