February 28, 2013
Is there a link?
Any one of us can experience a mental health problem. A conservative estimate provides us with a statistic of one in every four people experiencing some form of mental illness in the course of their lives. This is at least 25% of everyone , across cultures, classes, genders, and age groups.
When something as disturbing as crime, particularly violent crime, takes place it is natural for us to search for causes to make sense of what has happened. We are predisposed to remember emotive aspects of things we have seen or heard in the past, and to apply these experiences to current situations, to explain the things that are otherwise difficult to comprehend.
Because mental health problems are often still shrouded in fear and uncertainty, it can sometimes seem logical to us that these mysterious ailments of the mind would be linked with incomprehensible violent behaviour. In our culture, people experiencing mental health problems are frequently represented as being violent and unpredictable.
However, international research presents us with a different picture. What these statistics really tell us is that people experiencing mental ill-health are no more likely to commit crimes than the general population; in fact, they far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than to be the perpetrators.
How to report
Media professionals play a significant role in shaping the beliefs systems of the population. Therefore, it is important to strive for accuracy in coverage of mental health issues and to be mindful of the impact of reporting on the 1 in 4 of your readers, listeners and viewers who may have personal experience of a mental health problem.
Mental health problems are not a natural precursor to violence:
• Where there is a real link between mental ill-health and crime, news reporters have a responsibility to inform the public, as they have a responsibility to inform about all newsworthy events. However, postulating about causality before it is established can be extremely hurtful to people with experience of a mental health problem and can serve to perpetuate the damaging stigma associated with mental ill-health.
• Check the facts on the nature of any mental health problem before reporting. Common misunderstandings and stereotypical misinformation about mental illnesses can lead to inaccurate criminal attribution. Seek expert advice from a mental health professional or through Headline’s office.
Watch your language:
• Certain terminology is particularly hurtful to people with experience of mental health problems and can only serve to reinforce the associated stigma. Derogatory terms such as ‘psycho,’ ‘schizo,’ or ‘nutter’ should be avoided. Referring to someone as a ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘depressive’ is not best practise as it denies the person of an identity outside of their diagnosis and belies the fact that recovery is possible.
Signpost to support:
• It is always helpful to include contact details for sources of help and support for people who may be in distress or in need of information. This approach allows for coverage of important news stories that is accurate, sensitive and responsible. Headline is available to direct you on where to seek out information on mental health and the metal health sector.
The Headline programme aims to work collaboratively with media professionals to promote accurate and responsible coverage of mental health problems. Contact our office for advice, contacts and training on covering these important issues
01 8601549 email@example.com @HeadlineIreland
What can you do? Simple – report accurately and fairly, looking at all sides of the story; get quotes from the horse’s mouth – people with real experience of mental health problems; don’t make the mistake of creating the impression that everyone with a mental health problem is a ‘mad axeman’; give numbers of helplines, like Samaritans when writing about suicide; don’t give details that can – and do – result in people killing themselves in copycat suicides. Simple steps like these avoid causing offence, change lives for the better – and can even save lives.
– Jon snow