May 1, 2009

Media irresponsible on mental health issues

Terence Cosgrave

Mental health issues rarely get the attention they deserve, and when they do, the media often sends out irresponsible messages in the way they report mental health stories, according to Irish Times Social Affairs correspondent, Carl O’Brien.
O’Brien was speaking at the first scientific session of last week’s IMO conference, which focused on mental health.

He said that there was a tendency in the media to link mental health to violence — even though several studies had shown that mental health was low on a list of indicators for violent crime.

“Everything comes back to the stigma [about mental health], which is why it will always be a marginal issue,” he said.
He also advocated a mental health ‘czar’ who would be able to co-ordinate services and work improvements through the service in the same way that it had been done in the cancer area — an example he said was apt, as cancer had once been ‘the big C’ and had equally suffered from a stigma in public perceptions.

O’Brien finished by stating that the media could play a crucial role in lifting the stigma and increasing the profile of mental health, but that health professionals needed to help and play a more active role also.