On World Mental Health Day, we’re pleased to support mental health campaigner Natasha Devon MBE in pushing for thoughtful and responsible reporting on mental illness through a new mental health Charter. The Charter makes recommendations to newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, bloggers and YouTubers about how to talk about mental health. These are based on evidence collated by charities determining what might cause “copycat” behaviours in those who are vulnerable, be harmful to recovery, or be distressing to people with experience of mental illness.
Natasha said: “If my decade as a campaigner working in this field has taught me anything, it’s that language and imagery matters when it comes to shaping social attitudes. I do a lot of work in schools and pupils often bring thoughts they have picked up about mental illness from media outlets into the classroom.
This isn’t an attempt to curtail freedom of speech, but rather asking the media to be more thoughtful in the way they describe and depict mental illness. The more media outlets sign up, the greater the step towards genuinely educating people about mental health and reducing stigma around mental illness”.
Beat is often asked by members of the media for quotes, interviews, and contact with people willing to talk about their experience of eating disorders, and we always share with them our media guidelines, which outline how to report on eating disorders sensitively. But we know that much of the coverage of eating disorders is still harmful to those who are ill or vulnerable. We hope this collective push by mental health charities and commitment from media outlets can help make a big difference.
Beat’s Director of External Affairs, Tom Quinn, said: “The media play a crucial role in increasing understanding of mental illnesses, including eating disorders, and breaking down the stigma that many people still face. The media can strongly influence, for good or ill, the attitudes and behaviours of both the general public and of those directly affected by mental illness. By following this Charter, media outlets can play a positive role in combatting the stigma surrounding mental illness and protecting those affected by mental illness from further harm. We know from speaking to many of our service users the impact that irresponsible reporting of eating disorders can have on their illness, and we urge all media outlets to support this Charter.”
The Charter encourages responsible reporting around mental health as a whole, but also specifically discourages triggering images, details such as specific weights, calorie intake, and exercise habits, and stigmatising language. Today, Natasha will invite every major publication in the country to sign up to the charter. She noted: “There is no reason not to adhere to these guidelines. They are designed with the intention of protecting vulnerable people and providing better education for all.”
You can follow @MHMediaCharter to keep track of the campaign.