The Health Education Authority (HEA), an authority within the NHS
which advises Government on health education issues, runs an ongoing
mental health campaign. One of the focuses of this campaign is to try to
remove the stigma attached to people who suffer mental illness. The HEA
works closely with mental health charity Mind. Using press cuttings
compiled by Mind during 1996, Infopress Communications was commissioned
to analyse press coverage of mental health issues.
To make editors and journalists more aware about how they cover mental
illness and encourage them to write more positive articles, in turn
influencing public opinion and helping those suffering to feel better
Infopress used its Impact media analysis system to analyse 1,035
articles from the national press. The analysis looked at how positively
or negatively the papers treated issues such as crime, violence and
self-abuse. It also tracked the use of stigmatising words such as
’nutter’, ’crazy’ and ’pervert’.
Key findings included: 46 per cent of coverage on mental health issues
was about crime, harm to others and self harm; broadsheets and tabloids
made a clear link between ill health, criminality and violence; 40 per
cent of daily tabloid articles contained stigmatising words like
’nutter’ and ’loony’; less than eight per cent of articles gave advice
and guidance about mental health issues.
Armed with these findings, the HEA wrote a report, ’Making Headlines;
Mental Health and the National Press’. The HEA and Mind issued press
releases based on the report and spent time selling these in to the
national papers and radio stations. A feature was arranged with the
journalists’ trade paper Press Gazette to appear on the day the report
was launched. Case studies using people who were willing to talk about
their problems were also prepared to attract regional interest.
The HEA has an ISDN link in its press office and campaign manager Dr
Lynne Friedli, and press officer Gary Ward, who wrote the report, were
on standby to do interviews.
’The broadcast media were very keen to pick up the story,’ said the
HEA’s deputy head of press and PR, Richard Hunt. Sky News and Channel 5
carried interviews with Dr Lynne Friedli, and national radio coverage
included Radio 4 news and Today, Radio 1, Radio 5 Live and a phone-in on
the Jimmy Young Show. There were 38 items on regional radio on launch
day, including lengthy interviews on various magazine programmes.
The Guardian, the Independent and Express covered the report. There were
also many requests from journalists for the report.
The HEA and Mind claimed this was the first time media analysis had been
used in a report of this type. The extensive coverage, particularly on
radio, proved the media loves writing about the media even when a report
’We did anticipate some antagonism from the press, but most seemed to
take on board what we were saying which was very good,’ said Hunt. He
was particularly pleased to receive such widespread coverage because
earlier in the week the HEA had also received a huge amount of media
attention for its story about how images of smokers in magazines are
encouraging kids to start smoking earlier.
Whether the report will lead to more responsible and sympathetic
treatment of mental health issues in the media in the future only time
will tell, but the feedback received from journalists showed that it
made many stop and think.
Client: Health Education Authority and Mind
PR Team: In-house
Campaign: Making Headlines
Timescale: February - ongoing
Cost: pounds 7,500