Service users to be paid by government to talk to journalists

Service users are to be paid by the government to be interviewed by journalists working on mental health stories.

The scheme is a bid to promote more positive coverage of mental health issues, particularly stories relating to schizophrenia, manic depression and personality disorder.

The government is to fund the setting up of a “speakers bureau” to train and pay people with mental health problems to be spokespeople on mental health issues.

The bureau will be run as part of the National Institute for Mental Health’s five-year anti stigma and discrimination programme, entitled Shift

The scheme was included in a government report which stated that media reporting can reinforce prejudices against people with severe mental health problems.

The report had found people with a mental health problem were quoted in only six per cent of media stories

The report found that common mental health diagnoses – like depression and anxiety – are reported positively. However, media coverage of severe mental illness remains stigmatising, said the report, entitled Mind Over Matter: Media Reporting of Mental Health.

The report stated the media tended to focus on incidents of violence linked to people with a severe mental health problem, so feeding public fears of people with such diagnoses.

The report was based on an analysis of print and broadcast media stories, and was carried out on behalf of the government by three mental health charities, the Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Media and Rethink.

Launching the report last week, mental health minister Rosie Winterton, said: “Journalists can be in the vanguard of change, driving a cultural shift in attitudes about mental health throughout society. But they can’t do this alone.

“We all need to work to make change happen – the government, mental health charities and the media. We in the government are trying to do our part: we are working with young people in schools, with public services like the NHS and with employers to reduce discrimination against people with mental health problems.”

Raza Griffiths, 34, a mental health campaigner with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder, said: “Coping with a mental health problem is difficult enough, but dealing with stigma makes it ten times harder.”

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