A lot has changed since my first ever blog post on Huffington Post "Dear World Press - Stop the Negativity About Mental Health, You're Giving Us a Bad Name!" nearly two years ago. The Mind Media Awards, held at the BFI on Monday 17th November, certainly proved that things have come a long way; although have they come along far enough? With prizes being scooped up by many of the younger generation, is the world of mental health media in safe hands for the future?
The Mind Media Awards was set up to encourage more media outlets to educate, inform and spread positive messages about mental health. The award categories range from journalism to bloggers and factual documentaries to TV drama. Winners are chosen by a panel of experts, based on which person or group portrays mental health in the best possible way. This could be to educate, to eradicate stigma, to share personal experiences or a combination of all three. I was lucky enough to be invited due to my involvement in BBC3 documentary, Diaries of a Broken Mind, which was nominated for best factual TV programme. Although I spent most of the night starstruck and in awe of some of the greatest mental health advocates around, I did manage to notice one thing: attitudes towards mental health are definitely changing in the media.
Let's start with the Student Journalist award, which was a tough category to say the least. These guys are the future of our media, and I think it is excellent that they are recognised and rewarded for their work. The winner was Roar News, a student tabloid penned by some rather cool cats from King's College London. After seeing the shockingly distasteful headline by the Sun back in October 2013, they felt it necessary to contribute a whole issue to mental health. And a bloody good one it was too. So good, in fact, that they were also nominated in the Publication category up against the likes of Cosmopolitan and The Guardian Higher Education Network. I was lucky enough to have a quick chat with Dulcie, the editor of Roar about why they chose to dedicate an entire issue to mental health:
"Mental health was an easy choice for an entire issue in the sense that, because it impacts so many people, there is an abundance of incredible, sad and inspiring stories out there."
Next up, a new category for the Mind Media Awards but an extremely coveted one. The blogger awards. The increase of mental health bloggers is an incredible testament to the power of the internet, with so many people sharing their personal stories with the world. A mental health blogger has the power to inspire, which is something you do not usually get from sitting in a doctor's office. Ellen White was the winner of this award and a truly deserved one at that. The whole audience erupted when they heard that this girl, at just 15 years old, had won. I managed to speak to Ellen about the experience after the awards; she was so modest and adorable, she'll certainly go on to great things. When I asked her how it felt to be one of the youngest ever Mind Awards Winners she said, "A.m.a.z.i.n.g!!! I feel so privileged to have been allowed this award, especially at my age! It's something that I would never have thought would happen to me. The fact that I'm one of the youngest winners just blows my mind. I'm still in shock! I'm eternally grateful to Mind for making this all happen."
She also had quite a lot to say on the way media is changing in terms of mental health,
"I think the media is slowly changing its attitudes towards mental health. The fact that there were so many nominees and people at the awards who have contributed so well to breaking down the stigma via the media, just shows that we are making progress. Yes it may be difficult, but the stronger the force the more impact we'll all make."
There were so many incredible winners on the night, many of which struck a chord with members of the audience. A special mention goes out to the Open Your Eyes - Listen Up Project by Leroy Numa and Mo Hassan, which was superbly made and a worthy runner up. Finally, I cannot forget to mention the winner of the best factual TV programme which had the biggest number of nominated entries. Each and every one of these documentaries were mind-blowing, with pure passion and understanding felt throughout the filming and production. As myself and the other contributors of Diaries of a Broken Mind sat in the audience, we were sure that one of the more well-known factual programmes would have won, such as Bedlam or OCD Ward. But no, our name was called, and a huge gasp was heard from our row. We all made it to the stage with jelly legs, and the rest is a blur.
The night was rounded off with a truly thought provoking speech from Paul Farmer, the Chief Executive of Mind. I wish I had the space to include it all, but here are the most poignant messages he got across to the now rather elated, and perhaps a little tipsy, audience.
"We are beginning to sense some real progress in our journey to change the way society thinks about mental health and much of that is thanks to you the programme makers and commissioners. In fact this year, we have seen data that for the first time ever, non-stigmatising coverage of mental health has outstripped stigmatising coverage."
"It is a sad fact that around 6,000 people take their own life every year in the UK, people like Anna Sargent and Ian Wilkinson ....who we honoured here tonight and thousands more will attempt suicide, seriously contemplate it and struggle with their mental health. It is the biggest indictment of all of our collective failure as a society to bring help to people who need it when they most need it.
The media needs to be getting it right when they cover these stories. The politicians need to put proper resources into mental health and we at Mind will not rest until everyone with a mental health problem gets the support and respect they deserve."
The fact is, the media have such incredible power to change the way people think about those with mental health disorders. When we get rid of sensationalist headlines and irresponsible journalism, then we can truly focus on what is important; that 1 in 4 people have a mental health problem, and there are ways to manage it. These awards are vital in encouraging the media to report on mental health illnesses in the right way, without harming others or causing further stigmatisation. I, for one, only hope that the Mind Awards soon becomes as coveted as other journalism or TV awards, ensuring people realise the importance of their position in the media. This year they had goody bags, perhaps next year there will be TV coverage too?!
You can see a full list of the wonderful nominated entries and winners on the Mind website.
Images Provided by Mind.