Citizen Journalism and Mental Health

Citizen journalism could be a powerful tool for mental-health education.

Posted Oct 10, 2018

Today is World Mental Health Day, an opportune moment to reflect upon the challenges faced by people with mental illness. Stigma remains a key challenge, and considerable research indicates that the wider public still holds many misconceptions about mental illness. This can lead to discrimination and exclusion of people with mental illness.

Evidence suggests that the media can perpetuate inaccurate stereotypes and stigmas. Some studies indicate that media coverage of people with mental illness often focuses on danger, violence and criminality. Contrariwise, positive stories of recovery and rehabilitation remain rare.

Such media portrayals are worrying, as research shows that people with mental illness are more likely to be a victim of crime than a perpetrator. Likewise, recovery and rehabilitation are lived realities for millions of people with mental illness, but this is rarely discussed.

As such, mental health advocates have taken the view that alternative representations are needed.

Citizen Journalism

Citizen journalism involves community members producing media pieces about topics and issues affecting them and their communities. These media pieces can include short articles, videos, podcasts, blogs and essays.

Citizen journalists are not formally trained in journalism, and are not employed by media outlets. Instead, they are concerned citizens generating their own content, often in an attempt to educate, inform, and catalyze change on the ground.

There are many advantages to citizen journalism. First, their content is uncensored by editors and news outlets. Second, citizen journalists need not worry about displeasing advertisers. Third, concerned citizens may have unique perspectives that are ignored by the mainstream media. 

Mental Health

Citizen journalism has the potential to produce more accurate and nuanced representations of people with mental illness than that commonly seen in the mainstream media. As such, myself and colleagues have launched several projects in recent years encouraging people with mental illness to engage in citizen journalism to raise awareness and reduce stigma.

One such study involves people with mental illness working together in groups to write, script, and produce videos that illustrate the realities of life with mental illness. Some people were skeptical that this project would succeed, quietly stating that these tasks would be too difficult for people with mental illness, and that any resultant videos would be poor-quality.

In fact, the groups produced a series of poignant and powerful videos focusing on a variety of health and social issues. All the videos are available online and they have been shown at dozens of educational screenings to raise awareness and reduce stigma.

The whole citizen journalism process was systematically chronicled from beginning to end in this project, and summarized in a revealing new video which can be seen below. This video includes tips and tricks for potential citizen journalists wishing to start a similar project.

Some research indicates that the mainstream media is improving its coverage of mental illness. That said, a high proportion of stories still routinely link mental illness to crime and violence, while rarely mentioning recovery and rehabilitation.

As such, citizen journalism vis-à-vis mental health has the potential to educate the public, reduce stigma and catalyze change on the ground. Anyone affected by mental illness can be a citizen journalist including patients, family members or clinician.

Likewise, groups of people with mental illness can work together to produce their own media pieces, for example self-help and peer-support groups.

Conclusion

Many organizations are recognizing that citizen journalism can add positive and hopeful voices to public discourse around mental illness. Indeed, pioneering organization Art With Impact runs a monthly competition encouraging ordinary people to submit short mental-health films, with winnings films receiving a wide distribution.

World Mental Health Day allows us all to take a fresh look at enduring challenges and think about new initiatives. Citizen journalism is a chance to have your voice heard and may be an effective way of tackling stigma. Try it and see. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained.