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This presentation was developed as part of TEAM Up (Tools for Entertainment and Media), a project headed up by the Entertainment Industries Council.
TEAM Up is supported by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of county governments working to improve mental health among Californians. Prevention and early intervention programs implemented by CalMHSA are funded by counties through the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop. 63). It is also part of Each Mind Matters, California’s Mental Health Movement.
TEAM Up’s media partners include the National Association of Broadcasters and the Radio Television Digital News Association.
The media—and society generally- are often REACTIVE in discussing mental health issues. It usually happens when there is a news story that involves someone hurting others or themselves. And the conversation does not often go much beyond the violent incident and its implications.
Let’s talk about more facts. Every story is different, but there are some general facts worth noting. People living with mental illness very rarely are violent, and in fact are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.
When the only time we talk about mental health is in relation to violence, and don’t hear much about positive stories of people living with mental illness succeeding and contributing to society, it’s no wonder many people have a negative view of people with mental illness.
What are some of the barriers to discussing mental health? Stigma and discrimination are two of the main roadblocks. And of course, which came first, right? It’s stigmatizing so we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about it so it’s stigmatizing.
Stigma related to mental health problems is real--and so are the effects. The negative associations society has when it comes to mental illness can prevent people from seeking help. Often, people with mental disorders suffer repercussions in looking for work or housing. That discrimination is real. Mental illness is treatable, recovery is common—but not for the people embarrassed or fearful about seeking help.
It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about incidents involving people in the community with mental health challenges, even when they are violent. But doing anything that adds to the stigma the person already faces is a disservice to the person and your community.
Transforming Media Messaging About Mental Illness Through News, Entertainment and Social Media
TRANSFORMING MEDIA MESSAGING ABOUT
MENTAL ILLNESS THROUGH NEWS,
ENTERTAINMENT AND SOCIAL MEDIA
Nedra Kline Weinreich
Radio Television Digital News Association
When do we talk
about mental illness?
Usually when there is a crisis, such as a
shooting or other violence, or when
someone has harmed or killed himself.
The Facts About Mental Illness
• FACT: People with mental illness are
responsible for no more than 5 percent of
violent acts in America.
• FACT: People living with mental illness are
more often the victims, not perpetrators, of
--National Institute of Mental Health
Stigma and Discrimination
• Difficulty renting an apartment
• Discrimination in employment
• Unfair treatment in education
• Isolation from friends and family
News Media Analysis
• TEAM Up performed an analysis of stories in
more than 20 California newspapers over a
• The analysis revealed that most coverage
about people with mental illness is negative
and much of it emphasized a person’s
Entertainment Media Analysis
• About 50% of primetime scripted fiction
programs mention mental health/illness
• Characters depicted with mental illness
were more likely to be the “bad guys”
• Characters typically white adult males
• Violence and danger were the most common
stereotypical representation of mental
Worked Through Partnerships
California Newspaper Publishers Assn
California Broadcasters Assn
Journalism Assn of
Media and Stakeholder Outreach
Trained 981 working journalists + 275 student journalists
Briefings in 23 California newsrooms
Presentations at 25 journalist conferences/associations
Reached over 1,100 entertainment professionals at 12
Engaged over 3,400 stakeholders at 27 events
Statewide Generation Next student outreach
First, Do No Harm.
Do not use
• Assessing relevance of mental illness to story
• Using reliable sources for diagnosis
• Choosing words for accuracy
• Avoiding reinforcement of stereotypes and
• Using person-first language
• Avoiding assumption that violence caused by
• Share positive stories for balance
What are some other potential
unintended consequences of
mental health messages?
• Focus on word “stigma” may reinforce the
social unacceptability of mental illness
• Emphasizing the biological nature of mental
illness as a brain disease can backfire
• Success stories can set unrealistic
• Creates demand for unavailable services
• Reinforce stereotypes of what living with a
mental illness “looks like”
What are some other potential
unintended consequences of
mental health messages? cont.
• Reinforce stereotype of all veterans as having
PTSD/ticking time bombs
• Messages/images can be triggering (e.g.,
• Blurred lines between mental illness and
“normal” emotional distress
• Medical model vs. recovery model send
different messages about responsibility, agency
• Can set up people who share their stories for
• Think in terms of building message
• Work through trusted messengers – eg, AP
Stylebook, respected LA Times journalist
• Establish partnerships with key
• Build capacity on all sides – media and other
• Change takes time to take root