2 years ago, on World Mental Health Day 2015, I published my first blog post on here. Writing this blog has been eye opening, difficult, liberating and a pleasure. Thank you to every single person who has visited here, read my posts, shared them and related to them.
For this years WMHD, I am proud to be supporting Natasha Devon’s Mental Health Media Charter. Basically, the Charter is a set of guidelines for anyone discussing or reporting on mental health and mental illness, which will help to ensure that it is discussed responsibly, sensitively and without adding to the stigma.
Natasha words it the best – “In endorsing the Mental Health Media Charter you are signalling that you are committed to reporting stories relating to mental health responsibly, helpfully and in a way that takes into account the needs of the most vulnerable members of the population. You are acknowledging the power of language and imagery in shaping social attitudes and declaring your intention to genuinely educate and to reduces stigma around mental illness.”
Here is the Charter in full. The language we use and the narrative we create is SO important and I think the Charter is a brilliant idea and am glad to be a part of the campaign.
The Mental Health Media Charter
Compiled by Natasha Devon MBE in association with: Mental Health First Aid
(MHFA) England, Beat & The Samaritans.
Endorsed by Girlguiding & The Coalition for Men & Boys
In endorsing the Mental Health Media Charter you are signalling that you are committed to
reporting stories relating to mental health responsibly, helpfully and in a way that takes into account
the needs of the most vulnerable members of the population. You are acknowledging the power of
language and imagery in shaping social attitudes and declaring your intention to genuinely educate
and to reduces stigma around mental illness.
If work in a high-pressure, high turnover press office, it is understood that occasionally headlines
or pictures will ‘slip through the net’. However, by signing up to the charter you are confirming
you will do your best not to:
1. Use the phrase ‘commit suicide’ or ‘successful suicide’.
The term ‘commit’ suggests criminality and blame. We now understand that suicide happens when
pain exceeds resources for coping with pain. It is not a criminal act in the UK and has not been since
‘Successful suicide’ contravenes what we now understand about the act – Most people who take
their own life are ambivalent, in that part of them wants to live.
Better alternatives: ‘Attempted/completed suicide’, ‘took/ended their own life’, or even ‘killed
2. Show ‘before’ images in eating disorder stories or pictures which could be triggering to people who
For people who are in a healthy mindset, seeing ‘before’ pictures of people in the grips of anorexia
or who have self-harmed can act as a deterrent. However, for people who are either experiencing,
or in recovery from eating disorders or self-harm we now understand that these pictures can
become something to ‘aspire to’.
3. Use the term ‘anorexics’, ‘bulimics’, ‘depressives’ or ‘schizophrenics’….
It is important to understand that a person is distinct from their illness. To label someone an
‘anorexic’ for example, suggests that they are defined by their eating disorder. This is not only
unhelpful in terms of the way they are perceived by others but it might also hinder their recovery
Better alternative: ‘people experiencing anorexia/bulimia/depression/psychosis’.
4. Avoid giving too much detail on suicide/self-harm or eating disorder methodology.
We now understand that giving a lot of detail about how people have harmed themselves can
inspire imitational behaviour – There is a delicate balance to be struck with your responsibility to
report the facts of the case. Try to avoid going into too much detail, which will ensure the report is
safe for all audiences.
As a general rule, stories should focus on ‘whys’ not ‘hows’.
5. Avoid using generic terms like ‘mental health issues’ when describing terrorists and other violent
99% of people with mental illnesses are more likely to harm themselves than others. In establishing
a link between generic poor mental health and terrorism/violent crime, stigma and fear is increased.
Instead be specific – what mental health ‘issue’ did the perpetrator they have? Was it in fact a
personality disorder (being a psychopath or a sociopath is not technically a ‘mental illness’)?
You might also add a disclaimer along the lines of ‘note most people with mental health
‘issues’/personality disorders would not commit a crime of this nature, which occur as a result of a
rare combination of circumstances’.
6. Understand the difference between mental health and mental ill health.
Everyone with a brain has a mental health, just as everyone with a body has a physical health. By
using the term ‘mental health’ to describe mental illness, an important discussion which impacts
100% of the population is effectively confined to one quarter of it.
Instead of ‘battles with mental health’ it is therefore much more helpful to say ‘issues with mental ill
health’ so that the public can understand the distinction.
7. Include links to good quality sources of support if content might trigger need for help in a reader.
The best charities and support organisations ensure their web forums are monitored for triggering
content (ie users sharing self-harm or suicide techniques). They do not promote one form of therapy
for financial gain but instead describe various treatment methods. They base their content on
reliable evidence and have good links with research institutions.
Charities who have this ethos and you may wish to signpost to include: Young Minds
(www.youngminds.org.uk), The Samaritans (www.samaritans.org), CALM (www.thecalmzone.net), The Mix (www.themix.org.uk), The Self-Harm Network (www.nshn.co.uk), B-eat
(www.beateatingdisorders.org.uk), Mind (www.mind.org.uk)
Here is my ‘Stamp of Approval’ drawn by the incredible Ruby etc. to show I’ve signed up to the Charter 🙂
If you want to read more about the Charter, see Natasha’s website here. I hope more and more people get on board with this and help to report and discuss mental health in a responsible way that benefits everyone and reduces stigma.
Thank you again for your continued support of this blog. It means a lot! Laura x