How Can We Improve Mental Health Coverage in the Media?

Rebecca Palpant Shimkets, M.S.
Assistant Director, The Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism, Mental Health Program at The Carter Center

This is, we anticipate, the first of several occasional contributions from The Carter Center relating to its efforts to improve mental health reporting. The American public and the media influence how decision-makers develop, implement, evaluate, and revise policy. Because of the tremendous impact the media has on public opinion and, ultimately, on policymaking, journalists and other media participants must be comfortable with mental health conditions and the people these conditions affect. We encourage you to share your experiences, thoughts, and opinions to help The Carter Center understand and address the good, the bad, and the ugly in the portrayal of and reporting about mental illness in the media. –CFYM

Though nearly one in four adults in the United States experiences a mental illness each year, mental health issues are often covered in the media through the lens of national tragedies or sensationalist news stories.The Carter Center_D. Hakes

Unbalanced or shock-value news stories only serve to perpetuate harmful stigma and discrimination against so many valuable members of our communities. Whether a next door neighbor, a teammate in a pickup basketball game at the gym, or a fellow church member, all of us know someone who has a mental illness. But too often, the majority of our friends, family members, or co-workers avoid effective treatment out of fear that they will be stigmatized or discriminated against because of their medical conditions.

That’s why The Carter Center is excited to announce the recipients of the Rosalynn Carter Fellowships for Mental Health Journalism, which for the past 17 years have provided experienced journalists with training and funding to sensitively and accurately report on a mental health topic of their choice. Visit The Carter Center online tomorrow to see the press release announcing this year’s fellows. (Update 7/15: Read the announcement.)

In our last class of American fellows alone, a variety of important topics were covered, from the mental health problems encountered by older, homebound adults to the history of child psychiatry in America. These and other significant topics help to shed light on hidden public health issues and defeat myths and misconceptions about mental health and mental illness.

Since the program’s inception, Carter Center fellows have produced more than 1,400 mental health-related stories, books, and multimedia projects during and after their fellowship years, garnering major awards and distinction for their reporting.

The 2013–2014 class includes six fellows from the United States, two from Colombia, and a dual-fellowship for a team of journalists in Romania. You can read more about their projects on our website.

While we know these fellows are doing critical work, there is still much more to be done to bring knowledge and understanding about mental health conditions to the media and, through them, to the general public.

We can start by recognizing that we don’t know all that we should know about how to improve the social inclusion of people with mental illness. More research is needed on this issue, and we were fortunate to have some of the major researchers, policymakers, and experts in the field discuss this topic at our national mental health policy symposium last November.

Because Care for Your Mind is a community built by and for stakeholders in mental health, we at The Carter Center wanted to hear from you:

What do you think are the biggest concerns regarding the media’s depiction of mental illness? How can these concerns can be addressed?

What are we­–—the mental health community—doing well to promote accurate and balanced portrayals of mental illness? What could we do better?

Thank you, in advance, for your thoughts. Working together, we are building a brighter future for everyone.

5 comments
sueulrey
sueulrey

In many states it's MANDATORY for public school teachers to have 3 hours of college credit in Health.  Teachers are also given instruction in providing classroom support for special needs students.  However, I don't think it's required for teachers to learn about mental health (unless this has been added recently).  It may surprise you, but I was a certified high school teacher for decades and yet I did not understand what the diagnosis "depression" really meant until my own child was diagnosed with it, and I took NAMI's Family to Family course.  Since then, I've observed behavior in my classroom and then referred several students for evaluation which resulted in discovery and treatment of bipolar disorder several times.  I'd like to see NAMI and DBSA and other similar organizations push states to make mental health education for teachers a part of their curriculum for certification. 

I'd also like to see the same curriculum requirement in high school Health classes.  I know in Illinois, for example, Health is a required one-semester course for high school graduation.  The next generation would be much more understanding and aware of the true nature and extent of these mental illnesses if it were REQUIRED in their coursework.  How many of these students know the symptoms of bipolar disorder or that it most often appears between the ages of 18 and 28?  It seems crucial that young people going off to work, the military, or college are prepared with this information.  How many people could be diagnosed earlier if they had this knowledge? As citizens, how many would be more receptive to group housing in their communities?  And, eventually, as parents how many would be better able to raise healthy children?

Celeste T
Celeste T

I am founding out things like Google + Hangout is an awesome way to communicate among us living with mental health conditions.  Not sure we are allowed to post links here but if you go to http://schenectadypeer.com then click on "Online" "YouTube" you can see some examples of ways we can show the world around us, our communities, be role models for our friends. Anyone can use the Google + Hangout all you need is a gmail account, a webcam and I highly recommended you use a headset with mic to avoid technical troubles with audio

We do private ones and also live ones that air live on YouTube and we also put it up on our website for folks that are just interested in watching and not participating. Then after the live event YouTube within about 10 minutes turns it around for playback.  It is awesome.  We only started to try to do these I think starting back in April.  They are a riot we have fun sharing about anything we want hobbies events, mental health issues.  We tried one that was focused.  We focused on the Health Homes since there is someone in the group that is living the experience of being in one.  The "health home" is very new to our state

ramartijr
ramartijr

We need, above awareness raising and education, roll models to come forward and shipper the positive side of mental illness. ( not just big name stars nut every day heroes. We need to show hope... A path to a great life. Nor all people with mental health issues

shoot up schools.

tomeirr
tomeirr

I definitely agree with you!  I am hoping that the program/coarse “Mental Health First Aid” will become mandatory for not only teachers but for the following audiences; human services, and social workers; employers and business leaders; faith community leaders; college and university staff and faculty; law enforcement and public safety officials; veterans and family members; persons with mental illness-addictions and their families; and the general public.

I would encourage everyone to support this effort.  For more information to go to:

http://www.thenationalcouncil.org/about/mental-health-first-aid/