Mental Health Foundation media guidelines: Portrayal of people living with mental illness and mental health issues in Aotearoa.

These guidelines will equip journalists with the confidence and understanding to report on mental illness and mental health issues safely, accurately and respectfully. One in five Kiwis will experience a mental health problem this year, and more than half of us will go through distress or mental illness at some point in our lives.

Journalists hold great power and can influence public opinion about people with mental illness in positive and negative ways. People’s attitudes can reinforce stigma and lead to discrimination, which is a barrier to recovery and being able to live a full life.

When handled well, reporting can:

  • change public misconceptions
  • challenge myths and educate people about mental health
  • change attitudes that reinforce mental illness stigma and lead to discrimination
  • encourage people in distress to seek help
  • support hope and recovery.

When handled poorly, reporting can:

  • make it less likely that people experiencing mental distress will ask for help
  • mislead the public about what experiences of mental illness and mental health care are like
  • reinforce misguided beliefs that people living with a mental illness are dangerous and to be feared
  • increase feelings of shame and isolation for people experiencing distress.

“Tell the whole, accurate, safe and empowering story of what mental health and wellbeing is about. Cover stories about mental health issues thoughtfully, with compassion and hope. It will help you, me and millions of other New Zealanders.” – Mental Health Foundation chief executive, Shaun Robinson.

 

“He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata.”
“What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.”

  • Respect the language people use for themselves when describing their diagnosis, behaviour or experience.
  • Consider discussing with the interviewee the potential consequences for their health, safety and livelihood if you publicise their experience of a mental illness. Ensure they are aware of how their story will be used, and whether it will remain available online.
  • Ensure interviewees are currently well, have support around them (if they wish) during and after the interview process, and let them know when the story will be made public.
  • Offer anonymity: People are sometimes worried about how people will view them if they share their experience or have concerns about discrimination from future employers, landlords and others.

“I hoped that sharing my story will increase understanding of mental health and maybe inspire other people with similar problems to me.” – Mental health consumer