Category Archives: communication
On Monday, the Virgin Money Giving Mind Media Awards celebrated the most supportive and accurate mental health reporting in the British media, including documentaries, radio shows, digital content and newspaper reporting.
Mind, one of the UK’s best known mental health charities, knows how important it is to report sensitively on any mental health news story or feature, because ignorant or distressing content can lead to genuine distress for mental health sufferers and their families.
So, what does responsible media content look like, and how are mental health organisations ensuring fewer damaging reports slip through the net? These are the key factors to consider.
Think Before You Write
There are many misused terms still used by reporters and editors for widely misunderstood conditions – words like ‘psychotic’, ‘bipolar’ and ‘schizophrenic’ are often used inaccurately. Furthermore, casual words like ‘crazy’, ‘mad’, ‘breakdown’ and ‘bonkers’ can also be used to generate headlines or clickbait. By sensationalising these stories, the media is reducing sufferers to stereotypes.
Good mental health content is inquisitive without being intrusive: it respects the emotional impact that comes with telling your story to a journalist or producer. It works with, not against, interviewees, and involves a high level of research to avoid offending or stigmatising anyone involved in the story. When reporting on a failure of care by health professionals, it demands answers for those affected, as was the case in Mind Media Awards winner Catherine Jones’ investigation for Channel 5 News.
Any content that could be triggering for readers, listeners or viewers is best ended with contact details for relevant organisations, such as the Samaritans. This has now become standard on episodes of television soaps, where hotline numbers or websites are displayed at the end of the episode credits. Online and print content is catching up, but there is still work to be done.
The new Mental Health Media Charter, created by campaigner Natasha Devon, calls on all parts of the media to commit to creating stigma-free mental health content. Signatories so far include the Metro, Grazia, Tes and Heat magazine. I can’t wait to see who else signs the charter and makes a stand against irresponsible journalism.
When reporting suicide, or suicide attempts, the media should be particularly careful not to share graphic details which may encourage other suicidal people to imitate the methods mentioned. The charity Samaritans has issued useful guidelines for anyone reporting on suicide.
Friends and family members can often be hounded by the media in the wake of a loved one’s suicide, via incessant phone calls, ‘doorstepping’ (turning up at someone’s home to get an interview), or trawling social media profiles for signs of intent. This is deeply distressing and does not help with the grieving process.
When someone close to you commits suicide, you may fear you could have done more to help them, and you search for warning signs that could have been missed days, weeks or months earlier. However, people with mental health problems and suicidal thoughts don’t necessarily look depressed; they can develop coping mechanisms and present as upbeat and untroubled. CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), a mental health charity which aims to reduce male suicide, reminds us that ‘sometimes there are no warning signs because the person wants to keep their personal crisis private, and so will work hard at hiding their thoughts and feelings’.
The media needs to recognise there is no single pattern of suicidal thought or behaviour, nor is there a single ‘depressed’ or ‘suicidal’ stock image to be used alongside these articles (such as the dreaded stereotypical ‘head clutcher’, where a person sits with their head in their hands).
Mental illness is often wrongly attributed as the sole cause for a horrendous crime, leading to media speculation that everyone with that diagnosis is a threat to society. One prime example is the Germanwings pilot, Andreas Lubitz, who deliberately crashed a plane in March 2015, killing everyone on board. Stories quickly appeared, speculating that, because the pilot had been treated for depression, depressed pilots posed a threat to their passengers. Mind quickly countered such arguments with a statement.
Unfortunately, the damaging stories in the UK and beyond were still read by millions of people. The World Psychiatry Journal published findings in October 2015 that ‘the plane crash did have a measurable impact on public attitudes towards persons with mental disorder’.
In reality, serious crime happens for a multitude of reasons: some environmental and societal, some caused by reactions to life events. Stastically, someone with a mental illness is more likely to be a victim of violence than a perpetrator. With one in four of us experiencing mental illness during our lifetime, imagine how many people you come into contact with every week who successfully manage a mental health issue. You shouldn’t fear these people. Being a pilot, or taking on a similarly intense job, involves regular medical checks, and we should trust that mental health can be responsibly managed, just like any other health condition, by patients, their therapists and health professionals.
Those diagnosed with schizophrenia can also be media targets. Every year, we see headlines around the world sensationalising the rare times when a schizophrenic patient becomes violent. This reportage doesn’t communicate how rare these incidents are, how much brilliant care there is for schizophrenia patients, and how many people with the diagnosis aren’t violent at all. Cal Strode, from the Mental Health Foundation, has blogged about this misrepresentation for the Huffington Post. The perceived threats suggested by certain parts of the media are both damaging and disrespectful.
Body Image and Identity
Writer and activist Juno Dawson spoke at the Mind Media Awards about the need for the media to respect transgender issues when reporting on them. She cited the statistic (from the National Centre for Transgender Equality) that 40% of those who identify as transgender will attempt suicide.
High-profile transgender icons, such as Caitlin Jenner and Kellie Maloney, are helping to break the stigma, but the transgender community and the wider LGBTQI+ community is still not given the same respect when it comes to mental health media coverage. For example, it’s important to use the pronouns that the person identifies with (this could be he, she or they/them), and to use the correct terminology when conducting interviews or producing content.
Beyond transgender issues, body image can become too much of a fixation for tabloids and websites, who incessantly report on celebrity weight loss, dieting and weight gain. Media figures who speak out about eating disorders have often seen their bodies scrutinised by reporters, on top of the self-stigmatisation that comes with their condition. Magazines not only publish intrusive images, but also the weight, dress size and BMI of celebrities, and the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods they eat, reinforcing fears of weight gain.
Some health professionals also believe that trends like ‘clean eating’, often celebrated by the media, can fuel an ENDOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), by excluding multiple food groups and developing a restricted diet with inflexible self-imposed rules. Dr. Max Pemberton is just one of those speaking out. When clean eating gurus are praised by magazines and websites, their food ethos becomes both normalised and amplified.
Events like the Mind Media Awards remind us that progress is being made to destigmatise mental illness in our newspapers, magazines and other media. However, it would be refreshing if all media outlets used emotional intelligence, tact and sensitivity when creating content about mental health.
Written by guest contributor and mental health campaigner Polly Allen, for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).
With one in four people likely to suffer a mental health problem in their lifetime, it’s never been more important to know about disclosing a mental health issue when you live with a diagnosis that affects you day-to-day.
Whether you’re job hunting and worried about discrimination, or you’re employed but struggling to cope, this is what you need to know about mental health in the workplace and the ins and outs of disclosure.
Disclosing a Mental Health Issue: Guidance from British Law
The Equality Act (2010) protects you from discrimination for nine characteristics, including age, race and sex. Disability is another characteristic, but many people don’t realise ongoing mental health problems that significantly affect your day-to-day life actually count as a disability. This means you cannot be discriminated in the workplace for having a mental health problem, unless an employer can prove a lawful justification for their actions – for example, if other workers’ health and safety is at risk.
The exact wording from the Equality Act refers to ‘a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial, adverse, and long-term effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities’. In the case of mental health, this would mean a condition that’s affected you (or likely to affect you) for 12 months, either ongoing or recurring. It also applies to conditions that affected you in the past, so you are protected even if you haven’t had an episode of depression, bipolar, or another mental health condition.
Your employer must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace to help manage your condition; these might include a change to your working hours, having a quiet room to go to when you need some time alone, not needing to ‘hot desk’ (find a desk at random rather than be allocated a set space) or changing some of your responsibilities. Shaw Trust, which helps disadvantaged people into work and training, has some useful online resources and face-to-face employability services.
Support in the Workplace
You may need support from occupational health, which an employer can refer you to, or you might choose to get support outside the workplace. It can be tricky to find talking therapy that fits around your working hours, but do outline any concerns to your therapist and they will try their best to find an appointment time to suit you, perhaps an early morning or evening slot, or a lunchtime session. Depending on your job structure, you may be able to work flexibly around an appointment in working hours, or perhaps work from home on the day of your regular appointment.
It can be more difficult to feel supported in a smaller workplace, where there is no Human Resources department. As an employee within a small team, you may also feel more overstretched and find it harder to speak out about your condition, for fear of increasing other people’s workloads or stress levels. However, all employers must abide by the law, and they still have a duty to make some of those ‘reasonable adjustments’, which will vary according to your needs, where possible.
If your employer can’t afford to make the kind of adjustments needed, you may be entitled to funding from the government’s Access to Work scheme. This might involve help with transport, or access to a support worker. Local and national charities can also offer advice. If you’re in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, the Royal College of Psychiatrists has a list of resources that could help you. Should you be caring for someone with long-term mental health issues, don’t forget you are also protected against discrimination by association. Mind has a useful resource on the types of discrimination here.
Your Right to Privacy When Disclosing a Mental Health Issue
Some people don’t want to disclose their mental health condition and, if it doesn’t put health and safety at risk to non-disclose, you can choose not to inform your employer. However, this may make things harder if you do need to make changes in the workplace down the line.
When you’re applying for most jobs, you don’t need to disclose any health conditions, mental or physical, unless you want to. Certain public-sector jobs, such as being a teacher or a doctor, have different regulations, and you would need to disclose in these cases. It’s also important to inform the DVLA if any medication for mental health issues is affecting your ability to drive, whether or not driving is a necessary part of your job.
The majority of companies should only ask for health disclosures after a job offer has been made, but – aside from exempt professions, such as teaching, mentioned above – you are still not legally bound to reveal your diagnosis. Once you have disclosed, your employer should still respect your privacy, so if you only want your manager and the HR team to know about your diagnosis, it shouldn’t be discussed with other members of staff.
Written by guest contributor Vikram Das for Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).
Living with a rare illness is a struggle, but dealing with an ignorant GP increases that struggle.
Those feelings of not being listened to increase the isolation, ramp up the stress and contribute to disease progression.
I do not use the term ‘ignorant’ as an insult, rather I chose it to reflect the true meaning of the word. Ignorant means ‘destitute of knowledge’: in this case, a GP who doesn’t know what it means to live with your rare illness day in, day out, and doesn’t know how debilitating its symptoms can be.
Rare Diseases and GP Treatment
A GP’s case load normally consists of the everyday ailments of living, plus a few rarer ones. GPs are not trained to know about the rare diseases that patients present with, and this is where the problems can start.
Trying to inform your GP about your rare disease and the tests you currently need is often akin to tip-toeing through a volcanic minefield. Why is this? It’s rather simple. The majority of GPs have been conditioned to believe they know most things about our health. Repeated consultations with grateful patients reinforce this belief.
GP’s can occasionally become omnipotent. Faced with a patient who knows more than them about a certain condition (as we rarities must do in order to survive) can be threatening to their self-perception. They do not like to feel small, and may immediately and unconsciously deflect or project on to us.
When this happens, the patient comes away feeling a hypochondriac, or a time-waster. The patient shuffles away feeling awful and the normal power inequality is restored. What has just happened is rarely questioned, except perhaps in a therapist’s room.
How to Assert Yourself With Your GP
It can be very helpful to take a second when you feel talked down to and patronised. This is your moment to regroup and have another go. Remember these three simple steps – you could even write them down and read them before your consultation.
1. Hold your ground.
2. Repeat your requests slowly and clearly, in a non-defensive tone.
3. Remain measured and stay in adult mode.
Your GP will feel less threatened and reduce the superior tone. He or she will have no choice but to operate in ‘adult mode’ as well. This normally produces a win-win situation. You, I and our families lose when we walk away feeling stupid.
It is also critically important to research as much as you are able to, and make sure your information is correct, to help yourself. Fortunately, there are many great blogs available online, where people with a rare illness have described the same symptoms and GP frustrations as you. Try typing the name of your illness, plus the word ‘blog’, into a search engine: for example, ‘chronic fatigue syndrome + blog’.
Lastly, I recommend getting a book on assertion if it is hard for you to stay in control in difficult situations; alternatively, you can find some great internet resources on how to be more assertive in general.
Written by a guest blogger for Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).