A study of Australian news media’s coverage of complex mental illness in the context of violent crime has identified significant potential for reporting to minimise risk of perpetuating and reinforcing stigma.
An analysis of 128 articles over a two-year period from 2018 to 2020 found that on average, Australian media articles met only half of the recommended quality criteria to avoid perpetuating stigma.
“Specific areas for improvement include the provision of information about mental illness, avoiding the use of stigmatising language, and avoiding assumptions about the role of mental illness in articles reporting on complex mental illness and crime,” wrote the authors.
The paper, Examining the quality of news media reporting of complex mental illness in relation to violent crime in Australia was published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry and was led by Madeline Graham from the University of Melbourne. The paper was completed in partnership with the University of Newcastle and Everymind.
Dr Elizabeth Paton, Mindframe Program Lead at Everymind, said that complex mental illness was far more commonly portrayed by media in the context of violent crime than actual rates.
“If the only media the community sees about people with mental illness are stories about crimes or court cases, this can negatively shape public attitudes and can stoke misunderstanding and fear,” Dr Paton said.
“This effect accumulates, and reinforces myths and stereotypes that are highly stigmatising for those living with a complex mental illness and their families,” Dr Paton said.
“The media can play a vital role in challenging these stereotypes and promoting greater empathy and compassion for those with lived and living experience.”
The paper reinforces the importance of the Mindframe Guidelines on media reporting of severe mental illness in the context of violence and crime, recommending the free resource “be distributed to media outlets, with supporting resources to aid in their adoption and increase general understanding of their importance”.
It also sets an important benchmark for future research to determine the impact of the guidelines on the quality of media reporting on these issues.
Informed by research and expertise from a panel of media and mental health professionals as well as people with lived and living experience, the Mindframe guidelines set a standard on best-practice reporting on the issues of mental illness in the context of violence and crime.
Learn more about the Mindframe Guidelines on media reporting of severe mental illness in the context of violence and crime: https://bit.ly/3ZF7GLu