Spotlight on mental health coverage for media professionals

With one in five Australians diagnosed with a mental illness within a 12-month period, it’s important that media professionals understand the difference between the terms mental health and mental ill-health.

The media is a major source of information for the community, and play an important role in the way mental illness is portrayed, informing and shaping community attitudes.

The misuse of a word or term or unsafe language in a high profile article can inadvertently reinforce common myths and stigma associated with mental illness.

This in turn can impact significantly on people diagnosed with a mental illness, making them less likely to seek help when they need it.

The Mindframe team have taken a closer look at some of the differences between the term mental health and mental ill-health to assist in supporting balanced and safe reporting about mental illness.

What is meant by mental health?

Mental health is a holistic term and refers to the complete social and emotional wellbeing of an individual.
Being mentally healthy is more than the absence of an illness, but a state of overall wellbeing.

Overall individual wellbeing encompasses having the capacity to build and maintain relationships with others, set and fulfil goals as well as cope with setbacks and the overall enjoyment of life.

In instances when media discuss the mental health of the individual, it should be within the context of their overall complete social and emotional wellbeing and not in reference to a specific condition, illness or state of being.

What is mental ill-health?

Mental ill-health is the overarching term that includes both mental illness and mental health problems.
It is important for media to consider there are two clear definitions for both of these terms and using these incorrectly can be harmful to those who are vulnerable and at risk.

Just because someone has mental ill-health doesn’t mean they have a long term mental health illness.

  • Mental illness: A mental illness is a disorder diagnosed by a medical professional that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. Mental illness includes: mood disorders, like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder etc.
  • Mental health problems: A mental health problem also interferes with a person’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities, but may not meet the criteria for a diagnosed mental illness. These may be result of life stressors taking a toll on you emotionally, but often resolve over time when the situation changes.

Media are encouraged to be clear when using both terms and to be aware that when there is no diagnosed condition, it doesn’t mean that there isn’t a presence of a singular or number of mental health problems.

To access more support on how to report on these areas safely as well as for more information and access to the national Mindframe guidelines please visit Mindframe.

For more information on integrating safe language around mental ill-health and suicide within your organisation visit Life in Mind's National Communications Charter, for practical advice and examples.

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