In the 1st quarter of 2019…
Press Council decides on suicide methodology reportage
In June 2018, Headline engaged with The Sunday Times regarding the publication of a detailed suicide methodology. We supported the editor and journalist in their coverage of an important issue regarding prisoner safety, but our opinions of this one detail of a suicide method differed. Following mediation Headline submitted an official complaint to the Press Ombudsman, Mr. Peter Feeney. Mr. Feeney upheld the complaint a short time later but appeals to the Press Council delayed a final decision on the complaint until February 2019. This was the first time a complaint, under Principle 5.4 of the Press Council’s Code of Practice, had been deliberated by the Council. You can read more on their website here and further information on our website here.
Following February’s decision by the Press Council to uphold Headline’s complaint, the Council removed Principle 5.4 from the Privacy Category within the Code of Practice and created a new category. The new category reads:
Headline welcomes this move by the Press Council and hopes that in time this principle will be expanded upon to include a full range of evidence-based guidelines on media practice for suicide prevention.
Suicide Reporting Briefings for MidWest Media
On March 1st and 22nd, Headline co-presented at the HSE’s Mid-West media briefing. This was organised for media professionals from across print, radio and online platforms, as well as, spokespeople from the Limerick region. The event brought together expertise from local Suicide Prevention Officers from the National Office of Suicide Prevention (NOSP), Headline, and the National Suicide Research Foundation (NSRF).
The briefing covered suicide prevention from a local context, an in-depth look at media guidelines on how best to report on suicide, limit contagion and support vulnerable audiences, the latest international and national research, and media consumption from the perspective of a person with lived experience of mental illness.
78% of attendees* had not received training in suicide reporting guidelines prior to the Limerick event. There was a 50% increase in media workers’ confidence in their ability to report on suicidal themes (Column A below), a 50% increase in their understanding of suicide reporting guidelines (B), and a 25% increase in media workers’ confidence in their ability to identify appropriate services for vulnerable audiences (C).
Following the briefings, attendees posed questions to each of the panelists. Discussions included the challenges of reporting on suicides within a local context, and how to balance providing information and adhering to guidelines when reporting on specific locations. Limerick has one of the highest rates of suicide nationally so high attendance by media professionals at that event was very welcome. We are grateful to those who engaged in such a responsible and meaningful way. We look forward to joining more HSE media briefings around the country in the near future, and to continuing our work to support and inform media professionals about responsible practices to reduce deaths by suicide.
Attendees were also asked where would they seek advice on how to report a particular story concerning suicide themes. Each source of expertise saw increases which, maybe most importantly, shows attendees desire to seek out advice at all.
*Results from survey participants both before and after Limerick event, March 2019.
Media Monitoring Findings from January – February 2019
We have been continuing our monitoring of articles which report on mental ill health and suicide with our external data partner. We are constantly refining what and how we monitor on a weekly basis, so that we can gather the most accurate and relevant data relating to the way in which suicide and mental ill health is covered in Irish media. We now have the results of our data monitoring for January and February 2019.
number of articles monitored between January and February 2019 of which
were filtered to our Priority stream
were filtered to our Non-Priority stream
Of the 990 priority articles
breached reporting guidelines
New for 2019, is our analysis of where content on suicide and mental illness originates. The nature of online content now means Irish audiences have access to 100,000s of news sources across the world. The nature of media ownership and the increasing trend towards shared resources among large parent companies means Irish audiences are exposed to content on “Irish” news sites which may have been produced by a journalist or digital content creator in the UK, US or elsewhere.
It is an incredibly challenging time to work in news. News room resources are becoming more and more squeezed and journalists and producers are expected to produce enormous amounts of content in smaller windows of time. In a digital age, the pressure to publish first is also increasing. We want to add some additional context to the occurrence of reporting breaches in Ireland, as we know from experience and international research, that predominately, journalists and producers in Ireland want to get reporting on these topics right. In January and February 2019, we see that just over 40% of guideline breaches were generated from content outside of Ireland, namely journalists from other countries working for a larger international parent company, or news agencies, like Reuters or AFP. This is where the role of digital editors becomes so important, especially in relation to content on the suicide or mental ill health of an internationally known person or celebrity. International standards of reporting vary significantly, and we would ask that content originating from agencies or international partners be thoroughly checked for suicide or mental illness reporting breaches before publishing.
How are Severe Mental Illnesses Reported in the Media? A closer look at recent coverage of Bipolar Disorder and Schizophrenia
A criticism of Headline has been that we actively look for the bad stuff, for the content that is reported in the least responsible way. Since mid-2018 we have been actively looking for the good examples of journalism to showcase in our workshops and presentations, and in doing that, it has highlighted a wider issue. Throughout 2018 we noticed, through monitoring and informal conversations with Shine frontline staff, the stark absence of content relating to mental illness that had little or nothing to do with violence. Violence, as a result of mental illness, is not an accurate representation of the vast majority of people in Ireland living with a mental illness.
The influencing power of the media on audiences’ perception of the world and people around them is well established. If audiences only ever see or hear about a severe mental illness when it is alongside stories of violence and crime, that is all audiences will ever see when they think of severe mental illness. We also noted, from the Challenges research by Dr. Anne O’ Brien (see above), that journalists and producers found reporting on mental illness particularly difficult. This was due in part to lack of access to people with lived experience, as well as a lack of understanding of more serious mental ill health difficulties. We wanted to look at representation in greater detail to see what the outcome of these anecdotal observations were. We therefore decided to undertake a test month from 11th February – 11th March, analysing coverage of Bipolar & Schizophrenia in the 200+ online Irish media sources we currently monitor.
In our analysis, we wanted to get an overall sense of the type of representation that these two illnesses are given in media available to Irish audiences. Bipolar appeared in 32 articles and Schizophrenia appeared in 36 articles. We looked at whether the content originated in Ireland or outside, and we also broke down the type of coverage within the following categories:
Court case and/or violent crime (perpetrator)
This category includes any reporting of Bipolar and Schizophrenia in relation to the violent actions/court case of an individual.
Court case and/or violent crime (victim)
This included coverage of criminal actions or court proceedings where the victim is reported to have Bipolar or Schizophrenia.
We included this category to note any coverage of a person with Bipolar or Schizophrenia who has been charged with or convicted of a non-violent crime.
This reflects any mention of Bipolar or Schizophrenia in relation to the review or coverage of a documentary. The mention of either illness may be referring to the documentary content directly, or a person connected to the documentary subject. For example, a number of articles mention that one of the people who took part in Finding Neverland had a father with a diagnosis of Bipolar.
This category covers any feature piece, either in news or health supplements, which mentions briefly, or discusses in detail, Bipolar or Schizophrenia.
We gathered data on any articles which mentioned Bipolar or Schizophrenia relating to a celebrity. This includes any interview during which a celebrity discussed these illnesses, or where a publication reported on the diagnosis of a celebrity.
This section counted the number of articles which referenced either illness in relation to a charity; for example, a charity which provides mental health support.
This category encompasses all aspects of fiction in TV/film/theatre/books. For example, it includes any review of TV shows that have a fictional character with Bipolar or Schizophrenia.
Articles which reference the illnesses in relation to other medical issues, scientific research, or science events.
71.6% of all content on Bipolar & Schizophrenia originated in Ireland.
One of the clearest, and possibly most staggering outcomes from the data, is the representation of Schizophrenia. Of all mentions of Schizophrenia in Irish media*, 72.22 % was in relation to violent crime. Of these articles, 84.6% originated in Ireland. We will be continuing to monitor these two terms throughout 2019 so that we can have a fuller picture of how these illnesses are represented and reported. We hope that by highlighting the type of coverage given to Bipolar & Schizophrenia we can promote responsible and accurate reporting and also encourage journalists, content creators and producers to give a fuller, richer account of people living with mental illness in Ireland.
*We currently monitor 200+ online news sources in Ireland. Not all of this content originates in Ireland. See our content origin statistics for further information.
Headline’s Education Programme
For several years, Headline has travelled around the country delivering presentations on the reporting guidelines to journalism students, to ensure the next generation of media professionals is equipped with the knowledge they need to report on stories containing themes of suicide or mental ill health. We have redeveloped our presentation to include the most up to date information and examples of guideline breaches, and we began delivering this new workshop-style format at the beginning of 2019. During our workshops we now speak to students about the types of mental health issues more commonly reported, and how they are represented. Currently, mental health difficulties that appear most frequently in Irish media are ones which may be viewed as being more socially acceptable, or for which there is more access and resources available to journalists. These include depression, anorexia, anxiety, and suicide, among others. In other cases, illnesses such as Schizophrenia, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Psychosis are most frequently reported in relation to violent crime. By highlighting the imbalance in coverage of mental illnesses, we aim to encourage more representative reporting of these issues by future journalists.
As part of Headline’s Education Programme redevelopment, we include newly adapted case studies, originally developed by Mindframe, Australia, global leaders in media and mental health integration. We tease out realistic scenarios with journalism students, each involving elements of mental ill health and suicide. This enables the students to flex their editorial judgement and raise any questions they may have relating to these difficult topics. Contributors, headlines, visual representations, ethics and narrative framing are all discussed. In the first quarter of 2019 we delivered workshops to four colleges; University of Limerick, Technological University Dublin, Dublin Business School, and Cólaiste Dhúlaigh. More than 60 students, ranging from first year journalism students to final year MA students engaged with this material, each group making valuable and insightful contributions. All the students trained are expected to enter the industry within the next 6 months to 5 years. The feedback so far is that, while many students seemed clear on the guidelines on suicide reporting and how to apply them, there was less confidence in dealing with a story involving mental illness. Issues that came up for students included the right to privacy of people living with a mental illness, and uncertainty as to what the symptoms of particular mental illnesses are. Several students equated Schizophrenia, for example, to a split personality disorder, an idea reinforced by films and TV programmes they had seen such as the 2016 film Split, recently available on Netflix. It was also interesting to note the discrepancy in attitudes to privacy among different cultural groups.
We evaluate each workshop so that we better understand the impact of our programme on students’ attitudes to mental health and suicide, and their confidence in reporting on these topics. This enables us to gather constructive feedback, and continually look at ways in which we can enhance our material and remain relevant to industry needs. We hope to release the first evaluations in next quarter’s review.
In the coming months we will be continuing to develop new fictional role plays, based on realistic events in Ireland, so that we can present students with challenging and relevant scenarios that will equip them for their future work. The feedback from students this quarter has been invaluable in planning new scenarios, as it became particularly clear that students were keen to engage with more challenging content relating to suicides of public figures and murder-suicides. We look forward to developing these over the summer to be delivered during the next academic year.
Challenges for 2019
The challenges facing the media, mental health sectors and consequently people with lived experience of mental ill health are many, but not insurmountable. The continued debate regarding regulation of social media and online content brings up many questions around balancing sometimes conflicting freedoms. In the online world, the freedom of information, speech and expression directly challenges freedoms against persecution and discrimination, and rights to privacy. The Dept. Of Communications, Climate Action and Environment recently made first steps towards regulation of that environment with a callout for public submissions on regulating harmful online content. How that will evolve over the coming months will be of interest to many people, including organisations like Shine, and programmes like Headline.
Over the last number of years, mental health has become spoken about widely. We have come a long, long way as a country in our acceptance of mental health difficulties. Workplaces are embracing mental wellbeing programmes for their employees, the whole month of May is given over to a national stigma reduction campaign, breakfast programmes have people with lived experience on their couches, park-runs up and down the country are dedicated to mental health charities and so on. These are all hugely important steps towards acceptance, acknowledgement and understanding of people living with these difficulties. The challenge is to expand that acceptance and understanding to those whose mental illnesses are not as “socially acceptable”.
There is a danger that people who need the most amount of support, through either medical, therapeutic, holistic or other interventions will be left out of the conversation and remain unseen and unheard. Mental ill health can be severe, debilitating and life-long. Interventions beyond self-care regimes and a healthy diet are often necessary but not often spoken about in the media. The person themselves, outside of their mental illness diagnosis is rarely seen in the media, unless it’s in relation to a critical incident or is a fictional representation of the worst forms of stereotypes.
It is estimated that 1 in 100 people living in Ireland have a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder. Another 1 in 100 will also have received a diagnosis of Schizophrenia. A further 1 in 200 will have received a diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. Thousands of families across the country are affected by and living with difficult conditions but their stories of recovery, resilience and reality are rarely heard. See Change, one of our partner programmes within Shine, has ambassadors all over the country who speak to the media about their lived experience. Many of these ambassadors have had very positive experiences with print journalists and TV and radio presenters producing content that is responsible, exploratory and impactful. The challenge and opportunity for media is to accurately reflect the realities of people with lived experience of mental ill health – all mental ill health – while the challenge for those living with these conditions is to trust the media to do that.