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Wednesday, 9 February, 2000, 11:45 GMT
Media 'unfairly stigmatises mental illness'

Tabloids are criticised for their coverage


Poor, unbalanced press coverage of mental health issues fuels stigma and reduces the quality of life for sufferers, says a leading charity.

A report by the mental health charity Mind says that media coverage has a direct impact on the lives of people diagnosed with psychiatric disorders.

The charity surveyed 515 people suffering from a range of mental illnesses about their feelings on press coverage.

A total of 73% of all respondents felt that coverage of mental health issues over the past three years had been unfair, unbalanced or very negative. Only 12% thought it had been fair, balanced or very positive.

Half said that media coverage had a negative effect on their own mental health, with 34% feeling more depressed and anxious as a result.

A total of 22% felt more withdrawn and isolated and 8% said that press coverage made them feel suicidal.

Hostile

Almost a quarter of respondents said that their neighbours had behaved in a hostile way towards them because of negative newspaper and television reports.


Severely personality disordered Michael Stone was one of the 5% of mentally ill murderers
However, some programmes and media outlets were seen as being significantly more helpful than others. Regional newspapers, regional TV news and regional radio news programmes were all felt to be fairer or more mixed in their coverage than national media.

The Big Issue, The Guardian and EastEnders were all highlighted as fair and balanced reporters of mental health issues.

Sue Baker of Mind said: "Really, it is tabloid coverage which gives us most cause for concern. They are looking for snappy headlines which will sell papers and they inevitably go for 'psycho' angles.

"But they present an inaccurate picture of the numbers of homicides actually committed by people with mental illness - the figure stands that less than 5% of homicides are committed by people with mental illness. And they stigmatise people who are diagnosed with personality disorders."

Ms Baker said that one in four people will at some time in their lives experience some form of mental illness.

She added: "I don't think these newspapers realise how many of their readers are affected by mental illness, or indeed how many of their readers they are potentially offending."

She said that press coverage of Aids and HIV had swung well away from the "gay plague" reporting of the early 80s, and she hoped that the reporting of mental health issues would soon be treated as sensitively.

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See also:
13 Oct 99 |  Health
Mental health up close
26 Jan 00 |  Health
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30 Dec 99 |  Health
Psychopath jail plan slammed
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A&E and the mentally ill

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