This week marks a really important week for NGO’s, consumers and carers across the country. It is Mental Health Week, a week to take stock of our mental health, and our attitudes towards it.
In Adelaide the week opened with the Dr Margaret Tobin Awards. Dr Tobin was a psychiatrist tragically killed in the Department of Health building 10 years ago. These awards not only mark her memory but honor the work of the community and media in treating and de-stigmatising mental illness.
I was lucky enough to be at the awards as a recipient of the Excellence in the Provision of Mental Health Services (Organisational Award) for my work on mindshare with the Mental Health Coaltiion of SA and the Media Resource Centre. However this is not my only relationship to the awards.
As a journalist I have entered my articles on mental illness many times. This year, while other categories filled the stage I noticed only 2 nominees for the award of Excellence in Promoting Positive Mental Health by Reporting Mental Illness and Mental Health in a Balanced and Respectful Way (Individual or Organisational Award).
In a whole year only one journalist and one newspaper from South Australia were worthy of receiving this award?
Caroline Winter won the award for a piece on 7:30 SA that dealt with the healing of family and friends impacted by suicide. However there was little fan fare from the ABC or on social media about this.
For a few years now I have written about mental illness in various forms – blogs, editorials, features and news items. I do so as I really believe it is one of those subjects that touch us all in some way, yet we talk so little of it.
Through this time I have really struggled with mainstream media’s lack of willingness to engage in the subject. 1 in 5 Australians will be affected by mental illness. That’s a pretty alarming stat, yet it seems to have little impact on editors and producers when deciding what goes to print or air.
Why are they so afraid of talking about it? Over the years prominent journalists and politicians have come out and spoken about their mental illness yet somehow that has had little influence on how a newsroom treats it.
The only conclusion I can draw is the success mainstream media makes out of fear. Fearing mental illness sells papers when there is an adverse event. When someone goes off the rails, then fear drives how it is reported.
If mainstream media actually engaged in a campaign of understanding and knowledge, when something adverse does happen we may actually react with compassion. Yet until that happens, fear will continue to dominate headlines, and stigma will continue to thrive.