The Department of Mental Health, in collaboration with the Commissioner for Mental Health organised a mental health event on 30 April. It was positive to note that participation was high and attendees originated from various disciplines.
This event, titled ‘In My Words’, was based on an analysis of the main local newspapers that have been published over the past year. The aim of this analysis was to identify and explore the main discourse-types and discursive themes related to mental health found within articles.
The event commenced with introductory speeches by Dr Josianne Scerri, the Head of Department of Mental Health followed by Dr John Cachia, the Commissioner for Mental Health. The findings of the analysis were then presented by Dr Paulann Grech.
Very briefly, the outcome was that the type of discourse used in mental health articles was typically neutral or negatively critical. In most cases, negatively critical articles were not addressed at mental illness itself but at inadequacies in care provision. No instances of the use of stigmatising discourse were encountered – this is positive and contrasts with literature available on media-reporting in certain other countries. However it was interesting to note that the vast majority of articles were written by/ in collaboration with mental health professionals or else based on research carried out by the journalist himself/herself. Although some of the articles were written in collaboration with people with mental illness, these were found to be scarce - such articles that could be found were mostly addressed at eliciting the person’s experience of mental illness. Whilst there is nothing wrong with that, there is an additional need to empower people with mental health problems to speak up, act as community spokespeople and direct informants to journalists. Such involvement should not be solely targeted at eliciting the experience of the mental illness itself but should also target issues such as what actual people with mental health problems like/dislike/need from services and from the general community in order to enjoy a good quality of life.
The presentation was followed by a panel debate. The panel consisted of journalists, policy makers and individuals with an experience of mental illness – these were Dr Natasha Azzopardi Muscat, Maria Muscat, David Spiteri Gingell, Flora Tanti, Rachel Attard, Mariella Vassallo and Melanie Agius Attard. The moderator was Dr.Michael Galea. A discussion ensued whereby it was clear that media representatives are willing to continue promoting mental health and liaising with professionals and individuals with a mental illness. However support and training is needed such as, for instance, in the reporting of suicide cases. Individuals with a mental illness also showed their willingness to act as spokespeople – this is not without its challenges but can definitely be done with the necessary support structures. Richmond Foundation was then presented as an exemplar entity which does its utmost to give a voice to people experiencing mental illness – to this extent, members form the foundation were interviewed to share their experience.
The event was concluded by President Emeritus Her Excellency Dr.Marie Louise Coleiro Preca who, once again, outlined the important role that the media plays in the discussion of social issues such as mental illness.