Mental Health Week, our work and the media

This week is Mental Health Week, a significant week for Australia given that every year 20% of adults are affected by some form of mental disorder.

Anxiety disorders affect around 14% of the adult population every year. Depression affects around 6% of the adult population every year. The remainder are affected by substance abuse disorders, psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, personality disorders, and other conditions. Many people have more than one diagnosis.

Mental health is an issue that is not going to go away but for publicists, journalists and the public we can mind the language that we use to talk about mental health and people living with mental illness.

MediaWise is working with a number of clients, which focus on mental health in one way or another.

Orygen Youth Health, one of the world’s leading youth mental health research and clinical centres, engaged us to help write content for its new website as well as profiles on some of its researchers. The work has been involved: translating science speak into plain English is a niche speciality of ours as is writing profiles that sing the person’s work and character. It has been a fascinating project, allowing us to learn far more about mental health research and the innovative programs and services that Orygen has initiated over the years.

We’ve also been working to publicise Ostara AustraliaAustralia’s largest disability employment agency. Ostara has helped over 2000 job seekers with mental illness secure employment over the past year and works with over 500 employers across Australia. It runs a range of different services focusing on Indigenous Australians, people over 50 and runs a Jobs in Jeopardy program, aimed at keeping people in jobs. 

Over the past week, John Myers has been organising radio interviews for Ostara’s CEO Tom Baxter who is challenging employers to take on a job seeker with a mental illness. 

Our work with the National Ageing Research Institute involves promoting and writing about its research programs focusing on ageing well. This week we have run a series of stories on Facebook and other social media about NARI’s research into mental health including better understanding of depression among the 50 year olds plus; telephone mentoring for people with COPD, as well as the mental health of older migrants. 

As you can see, we are involved in talking and promoting mental health and wellbeing by highlighting the issues facing each of our clients’ audiences and how the clients are supporting them.

None of this makes us an instant expert, far from it. What we do know is that media is a significant source of information for many people about mental illness and suicide. It plays an important role in influencing social attitudes towards, and perceptions of, suicide and mental illness.

We believe, and our experience shows us, that most Australian media professionals report suicide and mental illness responsibly. This was exemplified, on the whole, by the recent high profile death of the actor Robin Williams.

Nevertheless, as Sane Australia reports, there is still progress to be made. Over the past five months, its Stigma campaign has recorded 98 media stories: 27 per cent were inaccurate, 26 per cent trivialised mental illness and 26 per cent inappropriately reported on suicide.

We congratulate Sane Australia on this initiative, and its reporting on the Good Stories: this can only help journalists who want to report on mental health understand the difference between good and poor reporting.

We also congratulate Mindframe that works with media across Australia to make sure mental health issues are reported and described properly.