For 25 years, Mental Health Day has relied on the media to share headlines, tell human interest stories and spread positive messages of support, but when it isn’t a global awareness day, can the media really be considered a mental health ally?
Thinking back to 1992 when the day was first launched, I can hardly remember the issue of mental health being discussed or broached (but, I was only 11!). Fast forward to 2017 and a lot of great steps have been taken to help break down the barriers with initiatives like Time to Talk hitting the headlines and celebrities including Professor Green talking about his personal experiences; even Prince Harry opened up about his struggles after the death of his mother.
Looking across social networks today it is clear that a lot of people are doing their part to share positive messages and be open-minded about the condition. It’s great to see mental health campaigns have such momentum, and with more than one in four people being affected by mental health problems in the UK each year, it is vital these messages continue to be shared and talked about.
And, as this year focuses on mental health in the workplace, it is enlightening to read that one boss praised his staff member for being honest about needing to take mental health days off work. In an email exchange, that went viral, between web developer Madalyn and her boss CEO Ben. He said:
‘I just wanted to personally thank you for sending emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health – I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organisations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can bring our whole selves to work.’
Exchanges like this highlight that it is ok not to be ok and Ben’s simple act of understanding was liked over 30,000 times on Twitter and retweeted over 8,000, plus reported across the national media.
While this story shows how powerful the media and social can be in sharing positive mental health messages, we can’t forget the darker roles they play in causing distress.
In its 2017 survey, anti-bullying charity Ditch the Label found 17% of the 12-25 year-olds it spoke to had experienced cyberbullying. The devastating result meant 41% developed social anxiety, 37% suffered from depression and 26% had suicidal thoughts.
Another piece of research released in May this year by two health organisations, said four (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat) of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people’s mental health, with Instagram the most damaging. The survey of almost 1,500 14-to 24-year-olds found Instagram deepens young people’s feelings of inadequacy and anxiety. The channels have a negative effect because they can exacerbate children’s and young people’s body image worries, and worsen bullying, sleep problems and feelings of anxiety, depression and loneliness.
And the constant stream of sensational news stories, distorted and airbrushed imagery and unattainable ‘have it all’ lifestyles portrayed to us via magazines, blogs, news-sites and reality TV, make it difficult to maintain balance and peace of mind in this very noisy digital age.
Yet sensationalism in the media industry isn’t new. When he launched the Daily Mail back in 1896, founder Lord Northcliffe’s was famously known to say ‘Get Me A Murder A Day!’, confirming how murder, sex and scandal helped sell papers. 121 years later and they still do, but is that to our peril? With news now reaching us 24 hours a day, seven days a week, directly accessible from our fingertips, should we be more selective about what we choose to consume, how we decide to communicate with one another and what we gatekeep from those we need to protect?