Mindframe guidelines for communicating about mental ill-health

The way mental ill-health is communicated about or portrayed can greatly influence help-seeking behaviour and the prevalence of stigma.

By communicating responsibly and accurately about the topic of mental ill-health, organisations, individuals and media can assist in demystifying negative stereotypes and debunk common myths associated with mental ill-health.

Reporting that is inaccurate or sensationalised can reinforce common myths and impact significantly on people diagnosed with a mental illness, making them less likely to seek help when they need it.

Mental ill-health can be communicated about in a variety of ways, including public interest news stories about mental health care, policy directions, marketing and communications collateral, discussion via social media and the sharing of lived experience of mental illness.

Mindframe uses an evidence-based approach in all of its work and remains committed to encouraging a responsible, accurate and sensitive communication of mental ill-health across all mediums.

Consider the language you use

Certain language can stigmatise people living with mental ill-health as well as present inaccuracies about mental ill-health or mental health care.

Seek expert advice

New information about mental ill-health, symptoms and treatments become available all the time.

A broader discussion, news story or communications piece may be improved by obtaining the views of health experts or appropriate community leaders who can assist by providing accurate interpretation of statistics and placing situations or campaigns in context.

Find an expert for advice on mental ill-health.

Be mindful of reinforcing common stereotypes

Balanced and accurate discussion and communication has the potential to increase understanding of mental ill-health. However, stereotypes can lead to negative community attitudes and stigma.

Avoid reinforcing common stereotypes

Myths Facts

People who are mentally ill are violent, dangerous, untrustworthy or unpredictable

Many violent people have no history of mental illness and most people with a mental illness have no history of violence. People with a mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence and crime than the perpetrators

People are unable to recover from mental illness

Mental illness is not a life sentence. Most people will recover completely and go on to live full and productive lives. There are various treatments available to enable people to manage their symptoms/illness

Mental illnesses are all the same

There are many types of mental illnesses and many kinds of symptoms or effects

People who share the same diagnosis will have the same experience of mental illness

Even though a particular mental illness will tend to show a certain range of symptoms, not everyone will experience the same symptoms. A diagnosis will tell you little about a person's ability and personal characteristics

Some cultural groups are more likely than others to experience mental illness

Anyone can develop a mental illness and no one is immune to mental health problems. Cultural background may affect how people experience mental illness and how they understand and interpret the symptoms of mental illness

People with a mental illness differ in appearance to others in the community

People with mental illness do not look any different from others in the community

What about online?

While evidence is still emerging, recommendations should also be applied to the online environment, including social media.

Given the instant nature and potential reach of online posts, implementing procedures to monitor and manage message boards for posts that may be harmful or from people in crisis is recommended.

Online channels provide an opportunity for reinforcing help-seeking information.

Apply specific cultural considerations

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities prefer the term 'social and emotional wellbeing' to describe mental health.The term extends beyond conventional concepts of mental health and mental illness

Remember that no one person can speak for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Stories benefit from canvassing a range of comments from the mental health and suicide prevention sectors and those with connections to the local community.

Be aware of differences in language and communication styles for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse populations.

Specific recommendations for eating disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses with serious physical consequences.

Mindframe has developed specific guidance for the reporting and portrayal of eating disorders outlined below:

  • Present eating disorders as serious mental illnesses accompanied by physical consequences, rather than a lifestyle choice or part of an entertainment story.
  • It is useful to focus on the impact eating disorders have on the person and their family. Include a diversity of images, such as people who are a variety of sizes and shapes, as using images of people with extreme body weights or shapes may motivate some people who are at risk to strive to achieve an unrealistic shape or size.
  • Discuss behaviours in general terms (e.g. purging) without reference to the steps taken, frequency of the behaviour or any implements used as detailing specific behaviours, measurements or quantities may prompt others at risk to engage in these harmful behaviours.
  • If someone is telling their personal story, it is best if they are supported by an appropriate organisation.
  • Take care not to label the person by their illness or to present eating disorders as glamourous or as an option for dealing with problems.
  • Consider how celebrity stories are handled and try not to glamourise the illness.
  • Eating disorders are a specialised field, so consult with recognised experts for accurate information.
  • Promote help-seeking by adding information about support services.