Earlier this month Bafta used its considerable influence to call on the media to make more programmes about climate change, as a way of informing and changing public attitudes. Whether it’s tuning into a soap or catching up on the latest hard-hitting documentary, what we watch on TV plays an important role in influencing what we think about, what we talk about, and even how we treat ourselves and others.
At Mind, we have highlighted the important role news reports, soaps, documentaries and dramas play in shaping people’s attitudes towards mental health for decades. Over the last few years, an increasing number of accurate and sensitive portrayals of mental health problems have helped create growing public awareness of mental health, breaking down stigma and encouraging people to talk.
This also influences individual behaviour, and prompts people to seek help. Our latest analysis shows that recent documentaries and dramas dealing with issues such as OCD, anxiety, and psychosis have led to an increase in the numbers of people accessing Mind’s advice and information services.
The BBC Two documentary Psychosis and Me, where actor David Harewood retraces his experience of psychosis and being sectioned during his 20s saw the largest increase in visits to our website. Following the broadcast last week, visits to Mind’s psychosis pages more than doubled in comparison to the daily average. Meanwhile, Channel 4’s six-part drama series Pure – following a young woman’s experience of ‘pure O’, a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder – drove hits to Mind’s OCD pages up by 77%.
On the flipside, getting it wrong can do untold damage. For decades, most coverage of mental health either centred on unfair stereotypes about violent behaviour, or else presented people with mental health problems as either hopeless victims or curiosities who could be exploited for entertainment. This still happens, but we have seen a shift in the last few years and on the whole, the good now outweighs the bad.
Doing it well is crucial. An informative documentary or realistic storyline could make all the difference between someone recognising signs in themselves or others, starting a conversation and seeking help, or developing misconceptions that set them back in their journey. We should applaud programme makers when they nail it, and challenge them when they miss the mark.
At Mind, we will continue to support positive mental health portrayals across a broad range of media outlets. Our Media Advisory service is there to programme makers develop stories informed by the real experiences of people living with mental health problem. And every year we host the annual Mind Media Awards, which celebrates the best portrayals of mental health – not only to recognise achievements, but to encourage more journalists, writers and producers to create stories that have a positive impact. The result cannot be underestimated – it helps us have a better national conversation about mental health, and puts us another step closer to a supportive, understanding society.
Graham Evans is head of media at Mind
The Mind Media Awards 2019 are now open for entries and is calling for journalists and producers across print, online and broadcast media to enter work which has shone a light on mental health problems and challenged stereotypes.