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Mental Health in the Media, Good or Bad?

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Statistics show that within a year, 1 in 4 people in the UK will be affected by a Mental Health issue, and mental illness is frequently and increasingly being portrayed in the Media, through television episodes, movies, newspaper reports, and social media. The media can be used as a powerful tool, in raising awareness of these issues, but can this also create unfair stigmas, surrounding mental illness?

Mental Health Charity, Mind, conducted a report into the impact of Media coverage on the lives of people diagnosed with mental health disorders, and found that 73 % of those asked, felt that they had been treated in a negative way, as a result of Media Coverage.

According to the same report, the impact of newspaper articles and news reports containing mental health content, can have a negative impact on mental health sufferers, with a quarter stating that their neighbours had behaved in a negative way towards them, as a result of newspaper and television reports. Only 12% felt that the response to them had been positive. Regional newspapers and TV news were felt to be fairer than national media. This may be due to the fact that the national newspaper’s tend to go for headlines, rather than raising awareness, so can often be seen to paint a picture of somebody suffering for a mental health diagnosis in a negative light, in order to increase profits, and create a more interesting story.

There has been an increase in recent months and years, of the portrayal mental health through the use of television characters in popular TV shows, such as Emmerdale, raising the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and documentary series such as Channel 4’s ‘Being Bipolar’ following three individuals who suffer from Bipolar Disorder. The Bipolar documentary, has faced criticism for showing unbalanced views on the illness and not fairly representing the condition, and how to heal with it. These shows have brought some of the obstacles that people suffering a mental health diagnosis face to the masses, but there is a risk that the mental health issues are not portrayed accurately on television shows, and this can result in misrepresentation on a national scale, which can ultimately lead to stigma and discrimination. On a more positive note, the increase of attention on mental health disorders, creates an opportunity for individuals suffering from mental health, to recognise there symptoms and seek help. In turn this creates a society, particularly amongst the younger generations, which allows people to talk about their experiences of mental health, and change the attitudes towards it.

Social Media can play a dangerous role, in the rise of mental health issues amongst young people. According to Charity ‘Young Minds’ and finding from ONS Child and Adolescent Mental Health Survey, nearly 80,000 children and young people suffer from severe depression, and rates of mental health problems increase as children reach adolescents. Social Media sites such as Facebook results in us all comparing our lives to those of our peers, and creates an unrealistic expectation of what our reality should be. It provides an open platform for Cyber bullies, can create a feeling or isolation, insecurity, and increased depression, and has unfortunately resulted in numerous suicide related deaths.

The Media is so important to bringing Mental Health issues to the public, but it is vitally important that it is portrayed in a way that does not cause discrimination, or stigmas towards those affected. There is a responsibility to ensure that these subject matters are presented in a balanced way, with information on how to approach and deal with Mental Health Illnesses, when reporting about them. Perhaps with a change or approach, fair reporting and greater attention to increasing awareness, the media can help to change the attitudes surrounding Mental Health.
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