Symposium targets journalism students
TORONTO, Feb. 2, 2012 /CNW/ - Ryerson journalism students learned today
that the Canadian news media stigmatize people with mental illness.
Students heard from a McGill researcher who has found that almost 40%
of news articles about mental illness focus on danger, violence and
criminality and only 12% of articles take an optimistic tone.
The Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) hosted Mental Illness and Stigma in News Reporting, a symposium at Ryerson University in Toronto. The symposium was designed
to get journalism students thinking about how the stories they choose
to write and the words they use can perpetuate stigma.
"The media has considerable influence on shaping public opinion," says
Micheal Pietrus, director of the MHCC's Opening Minds program.
"Negative depictions of mental illness in the media can play a role in
perpetuating stereotypes and misconceptions."
Stigma is a major barrier that prevents people with mental health issues
from seeking help. Many people living with mental illness say the
stigma they experience is often worse than the illness itself.
"We understand the importance of responsible journalism," says Gavin
Adamson, assistant professor, School of Journalism, Ryerson University.
"We want to ensure our budding journalists are aware of how their
choice of language, tone, facts used and not used in their reporting
can have both a positive and a negative impact on people with mental
Ryerson students heard from Rob Whitley, Assistant Professor, Douglas
Mental Health University Institute, McGill University, who is leading
an MHCC-funded project that is analyzing the content, language and tone
used in news reports about mental illness. According to Whitley, the
research group has collected close to 10,000 news stories from English
and French media in Canada that date back over the last six years. "So
far our analysis indicates a tendency for some of the news media to
associate mental illness with violence, crime and homelessness," he
says. The preliminary results of the study will be released at the
international conference, Together Against Stigma: Changing how we see mental illness, June 4-6 in Ottawa.
André Picard, a well-known public health reporter for The Globe and
Mail, talked about the role of journalists. Other speakers included
two individuals with lived experience of mental illness and a
photojournalist whose father has schizophrenia and who has spent much
of his life living on the streets of Montréal.
In 2011, a similar symposium was conducted with journalism students at
the University of King's College, Halifax. Following the event,
students showed a significant decrease in their level of stigma toward
people living with mental illness. 75% said they would do something
differently as a result of attending the symposium, such as change
their views about people with a mental illness.
About the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC)
The Mental Health Commission of Canada is a catalyst for transformative
change. Our mission is to work with stakeholders to change the
attitudes of Canadians toward mental health problems and to improve
services and support. Our goal is to promote mental health and help
people who live with mental health problems lead meaningful and
productive lives. The Mental Health Commission of Canada is funded by
Opening Minds is the MHCC's Anti-Stigma Initiative designed to change
the attitudes and behaviours of Canadians towards those living with
mental illness. The initiative is currently evaluating anti-stigma
programs across Canada to identify which are successful at changing
attitudes and behaviours related to mental illnesses. The successful
programs are replicated elsewhere in the country. Opening Minds is also
working with journalism schools and the media to identify myths and
misconceptions associated with mental illness to create a network of
change and decrease stigma.
SOURCE Mental Health Commission of Canada
For further information:
Kristin Bernhard, Communication Specialist
Office: 403 385 4066
Cell: 403 620 2339