July 22, 2008

As part of Shine's Lucia Week, the national schizophrenia awareness week, Headline would like to take this opportunity to discuss the importance of the role the media plays in informing the public about schizophrenia and to address some mistaken beliefs relating to schizophrenia.   Research has shown that the media is the public's main source of information about mental illness.  This means that the media plays a crucial part in shaping and informing public attitudes to and opinions on mental illness.  The media has the opportunity to inform and educate people about mental illness and encourage positive mental health. However, the media also has the power to contribute to the fear and misunderstanding which surrounds mental illness by perpetuating commonly held misconceptions.Schizophrenia is a serious mental disorder which interferes with a person's ability to recognise what is real, manage his/her emotions, think clearly, make judgments, and communicate.  It affects 1 in every 100 people in Ireland at some point in their lives. While schizophrenia is one of the most common illnesses it is also one of the most widely misunderstood by the public. The media can play a major part in addressing the confusion and stigma which surrounds schizophrenia. Headline believes that greater awareness of schizophrenia among media professionals will lead to accurate and informed reporting.  This in turn will improve public understanding of schizophrenia. Although the media  tends to link schizophrenia and mental illness in general with violence and criminality, research shows that mentally ill people are no more likely to be violent than the general public.  People with schizophrenia are more likely to be violent towards themselves than to other people.  In the instances where people with schizophrenia are violent, it is when someone is experiencing acute untreated symptoms. Constantly linking schizophrenia with violence adds to the stigma which can prevent people with mental illness from coming forward and getting the help they need. Confusion exists about the meaning of the term schizophrenia. People often confuse schizophrenia with disassociative disorder or what is more commonly referred to as split personality or, multiple personality disorder. Disassociative disorder is very rare and has nothing to do with schizophrenia. The word schizophrenia comes from the Greek word meaning spilt and this may be where the confusion arises. However, the term does not mean a spilt in personalities. Rather the term schizophrenia suggests that there is a separation between the different psychic functions of personality, thinking, memory, and perception.  Using the term schizophrenia to suggest a spilt personality is inaccurate.Schizophrenia is frequently used as a metaphor to describe a state of two minds or changeability, for example, schizophrenic weather.  This is an incorrect use of the term.  Headline believes that journalists should use the correct and accepted terminology when discussing mental illness and avoid language that is inaccurate and likely to add to the public confusion about schizophrenia.  If you would like more information about reporting on mental illness please contact Headline-The National Media Monitoring Programme for Mental Health and Suicide, 38 Blessington Street, Dublin 7.Tel. 01- 860 1549. www.Headline.ie . Headline is Ireland's national media monitoring programme, working to promote responsible and accurate coverage of mental health and suicide related issues within the Irish media. Headline was established by the HSE's National Office for Suicide Prevention as part of Reach Out, the National Strategy for Action on Suicide Prevention.  Headline is managed by Shine and advised by a Steering Group made up of representatives from the following organisations: Bodywhys – The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, the Irish Advocacy Network, Samaritans, Aware, the National Office for Suicide Prevention, Mental Health Ireland, the HSE's press office, Shine, and GROW in Ireland.  Further information about schizophrenia can be found at www.shineonline.ie Shine is the national organisation dedicated to upholding the rights and addressing the needs of all those affected by enduring mental illness including, but not exclusively, schizophrenia, schizo-affective disorder and bi-polar disorder, through the promotion and provision of high-quality services and working to ensure the continual enhancement of the quality of life of the people it serves.  The Shine Guide for Journalists and Broadcasters Reporting on Schizophrenia contains useful information for media professionals reporting on schizophrenia.  The guide can be accessed online at http://www.sirl.ie/other/repository_docs/82.pdf .