WordsMatter: a new website to help promote fair mental health reporting

iStock_000013693360XSmall mental health newspaper headlines

Unbalanced and prejudicial reporting of mental health issues creates a climate of stigma and discrimination against people who experience mental health problems. This is a major barrier in terms of their everyday lives and can significantly hamper their recovery.

There is a gap in terms of a web-based project that allows people to praise and criticise media reporting of mental health issues in a structured way. WordsMatter will fill that gap.

The purpose of WordsMatter is to promote fair mental health reporting. We want to improve the reporting of mental health issues in the media, and journalists’ understanding of mental health issues. Words do matter. The use of inappropriate and stigmatising language, such as ‘schizo’ or ‘nutter’, is damaging and harmful to the hundreds of thousands of people who experience mental distress (600,000 people are in contact with specialist mental health services every day). But it’s not just about individual words. It’s about fair reporting that is accurate and balanced, and puts stories in context.

WordsMatter aims to establish a systematic process for encouraging people to praise good, and challenge poor, reporting on mental health issues. It comprises a web-based service which alerts subscribers to selected items, allowing them the opportunity to contact the media concerned through the website.

The overall intention is to encourage the media to be more sensitive and informed in their use of language in reporting on mental health issues, and to provide balance and context in their coverage. Initially, the project has been funded to cover national and key regional press cuttings only, but the vision is to expand this in due course to cover discrimination more widely in the media and public life, subject of course to securing additional funding.

WordsMatter website

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Andre Tomlin

André Tomlin is an Information Scientist with 20 years experience working in evidence-based healthcare. He's worked in the NHS, for Oxford University and since 2002 as Managing Director of Minervation Ltd, a consultancy company who do clever digital stuff for charities, universities and the public sector. Most recently André has been the driving force behind the Mental Elf and the National Elf Service; an innovative digital platform that helps professionals keep up to date with simple, clear and engaging summaries of evidence-based research. André is a Trustee at the Centre for Mental Health and an Honorary Research Fellow at University College London Division of Psychiatry. He lives in Bristol, surrounded by dogs, elflings and lots of woodland!

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