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Transforming Media Messaging About Mental Illness Through News, Entertainment and Social Media

Presentation by Nedra Kline Weinreich
Weinreich Communications / Entertainment Industries Council
National Conference on Health Communication, Marketing and Media
Atlanta, GA
August 19, 2014

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Transforming Media Messaging About Mental Illness Through News, Entertainment and Social Media

  2. 2. Our partners: Radio Television Digital News Association
  3. 3. When do we talk about mental illness? Usually when there is a crisis, such as a shooting or other violence, or when someone has harmed or killed himself.
  4. 4. The Facts About Mental Illness and Violence • FACT: People with mental illness are responsible for no more than 5 percent of violent acts in America. • FACT: People living with mental illness are more often the victims, not perpetrators, of violence. --National Institute of Mental Health
  5. 5. Stigma and Discrimination • Difficulty renting an apartment • Discrimination in employment • Unfair treatment in education • Isolation from friends and family
  6. 6. News Media Analysis • TEAM Up performed an analysis of stories in more than 20 California newspapers over a one-year period. • The analysis revealed that most coverage about people with mental illness is negative and much of it emphasized a person’s dangerousness.
  7. 7. News Media Negative Portrayals 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% ENGLISH SPANISH
  8. 8. Entertainment Media Analysis • About 50% of primetime scripted fiction programs mention mental health/illness • Characters depicted with mental illness were more likely to be the “bad guys” • Characters typically white adult males • Violence and danger were the most common stereotypical representation of mental illness
  9. 9. Key Messages
  10. 10. Built Message Infrastructure
  11. 11. Worked Through Partnerships California Newspaper Publishers Assn California Broadcasters Assn Journalism Assn of Community Colleges
  12. 12. Media and Stakeholder Outreach  Trained 981 working journalists + 275 student journalists  Briefings in 23 California newsrooms  Presentations at 25 journalist conferences/associations  Reached over 1,100 entertainment professionals at 12 events  Engaged over 3,400 stakeholders at 27 events  Statewide Generation Next student outreach
  13. 13. First, Do No Harm. Photo: Nico Avoid reinforcing stereotypes/m isconceptions Do not use stigmatizing language
  14. 14. Messaging Recommendations • Assessing relevance of mental illness to story • Using reliable sources for diagnosis • Choosing words for accuracy • Avoiding reinforcement of stereotypes and stigma • Using person-first language • Avoiding assumption that violence caused by mental illness • Share positive stories for balance
  15. 15. What are some other potential unintended consequences of mental health messages? • Focus on word “stigma” may reinforce the social unacceptability of mental illness • Emphasizing the biological nature of mental illness as a brain disease can backfire • Success stories can set unrealistic expectations • Creates demand for unavailable services • Reinforce stereotypes of what living with a mental illness “looks like”
  16. 16. What are some other potential unintended consequences of mental health messages? cont. • Reinforce stereotype of all veterans as having PTSD/ticking time bombs • Messages/images can be triggering (e.g., anorexia, PTSD) • Blurred lines between mental illness and “normal” emotional distress • Medical model vs. recovery model send different messages about responsibility, agency • Can set up people who share their stories for more discrimination
  17. 17. Lessons Learned • Think in terms of building message sustainability • Work through trusted messengers – eg, AP Stylebook, respected LA Times journalist • Establish partnerships with key professional associations • Build capacity on all sides – media and other stakeholders • Change takes time to take root
  18. 18. Slides/Resources
  19. 19. Nedra Weinreich @Nedra