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How Media Help Change Conversation on Mental Health
Science & Health

How Media Help Change Conversation on Mental Health

As the number of young Americans being diagnosed with mental health conditions increases, media outlets are exploring ways to cover the topic with greater sensitivity.

Data shows a rise in young adults being diagnosed with conditions such as depression or anxiety. But media reports of public incidents involving mental health sometimes use damaging language, experts say.

Words like “unhinged” or “erratic” – which were used to describe a homeless man who was killed on the New York subway last year – are considered to be negative examples of media coverage.

Health journalists and mental health professionals argue that using such terminology can be harmful and misleading for individuals with medical conditions.

Christine Herman, a freelance journalist, stated that media has a significant impact on how the public views various topics, such as mental health.

According to Herman, coverage can create the perception that an illness is due to a person’s moral shortcomings or flaws in their character, as reported by VOA.

She mentioned that our society often treats mental health problems as criminal offenses, pointing out that certain media sources still use phrases like “commit suicide” when discussing individuals who have died by suicide.

The term originated during a time when suicide was considered a crime in the United States.

Herman stated that the language and terminology used to discuss mental health can significantly influence and mold people’s perceptions.

According to Rebecca Brendel, a physician and former leader of the American Psychiatric Association, media plays a crucial role in educating about health conditions.

“We understand that in order to receive treatment and maintain good health, we must possess health literacy,” she stated in an interview with VOA. “This means being informed and having access to trustworthy information as consumers of both physical and mental health care.”

Rosalynn Carter, the former first lady, was a pioneer in promoting ethical and accurate coverage of mental health. She initiated a program through the Carter Center that provides education and resources for journalists to improve their reporting on this topic.

According to the Center, Carter stated that well-informed journalists can greatly influence the public’s perception of mental health concerns by shaping discussions and influencing trends through the use of language and visuals.

FILE - Rosalynn Carter, shown here speaking at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, on Nov. 5, 2019, was an early advocate of improved media coverage of mental illness.

Rosalynn Carter, pictured speaking at the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia on November 5, 2019, was a pioneer in promoting better media representation of mental health.

Upon Carter’s passing in November, the staff at the Center honored her enduring legacy.

A statement stated that she educated many journalists on how to cover behavioral health in a manner that decreases stigma and fosters comprehension and fair treatment.

Since its inception in 1996, over 250 journalists, including Herman, have received benefits from the fellowship.

Herman, who began her career in public radio, stated that the coverage we provide is significant as it reaches not only those in our communities but also people all over the nation.

Herman, who is located in Champaign, Illinois, stated that as she began to focus on health-related topics more frequently, her fascination with mental health also increased.

She received an award last year for her coverage on the challenges faced by families seeking mental health services.

Herman, a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists board, stated that the most impactful journalism is precise, rooted in scientific evidence, and highlights the individual rather than the illness.

She supports inclusive and empathetic reporting that incorporates the viewpoints and insights of those impacted.

She stated that these things can aid in eliminating the negative beliefs and bias against individuals with mental health issues in our community.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, one out of every five Americans suffers from a mental health condition.

According to Brendel from the American Psychiatric Association, the mental health of Americans has been significantly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been referred to as a “twin pandemic” within the mental health community.

Both she and Herman claim to have noticed a positive change in the way the media covers mental health, partially thanks to the Carter fellowship program.

According to Herman, possessing the ability to report accurately and effectively leads to coverage that promotes a greater understanding of important issues and works towards eliminating stigma.