Mail campaign a step to involving the community: opinion

Marc Bryant

Marc Bryant

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THE Mindframe National Media Initiative leads the education and training for responsible reporting of suicide and mental illness in the Australian media. 

Managed by the Hunter Institute of Mental Health for more than 15 years, the project continues to be funded under the Australian government’s Department of Health National Suicide Prevention Strategy.

Mindframe was developed with the assistance of media professionals, suicide and mental health experts and consumer organisations. 

The aim is to inform appropriate reporting of suicide and mental illness, minimise harm and copycat behaviour, and reduce the stigma and discrimination experienced by people with mental illness.

The successful dissemination has been lauded internationally. 

What sets the Australian way apart from others which also have guidelines has been the range of education and training activities ensuring media practitioners are aware, understand and know how to use the resources.

Media are key partners in preventing mental illness and suicide in Australia and for ensuring that individuals, families and communities are informed about the issues more broadly.

Credit is due to the media sector for embracing and continuing to drive Mindframe; at the launch of the updated media resources in April 2014, ABC Four Corners’ reporter Quentin McDermott said “Mindframe’s efforts to engage with journalists are to be applauded”.

Despite talk that media never report suicide, independent evaluation has shown the opposite; since the introduction of Mindframe reporting of suicide had a two-fold increase and with a remarkable rise in the quality of responsible reporting.

It can still be a challenging for a newsroom in the wake of a series of suicides that may warrant the media spotlight. 

With The Border Mail, the news team rose to the challenge, exploring suicide in their own community such as the risk factors as well as the prevention and resilience building activities. 

With the initial focus on individual deaths, where most media stories end, The Border Mail’s campaign led to the newspaper tackling the broader issues that were leading to psychological distress in the community and, sometimes, suicide and self-harm behaviour.

Raising awareness on its own will not change attitudes and behaviours; it will also not provide communities vital knowledge and skills they need. 

It would be like convincing people that going to school is important only to have them find out there are no teachers and curriculum. 

National Crisis and support services

  • Lifeline 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service 1300 659 467
  • beyondblue: 1300 22 4636
  • Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 www.kidshelp.com.au
  • headspace: 1800 650 890 www.headspace.org.au

The Border Mail’s campaign worked to support suicide prevention being driven at the community level while also ensuring that experts (clinicians, researchers, and policy makers) were guiding and supporting that work. 

Stories focused on promoting and building mental health and wellbeing, connections to family and community, and addressing stigma and discrimination, which all contribute to suicide prevention. 

The campaign empowered the community by helping people understanding mental illness and how to seek help. 

And advocacy led to more government funding for services such as the new headspace which opens on Monday.

The Australian Mindframe approach was showcased in the World Health Organisation’s report into suicide prevention in November last year, as one of only two global media initiatives that had had any significant impact on media behaviour. 

The responsible campaign by The Border Mail is a testament to how far the Australian media has come since adopting responsible principals.

The Hunter Institute, which manages Mindframe, has recently developed Conversations Matter — conversationsmatter.com.au — which includes a suite of free online resources developed to support community discussion about suicide. 

The resources provide practical information for communities and professionals to guide conversations about suicide. 

The resources are the first of their kind internationally and have been developed with the support of academics, service providers, and people with lived experience. 

Hopefully, this project will give fillip to the media’s role and help support the continuing grassroots efforts to reduce suicide and increase community resilience in Australia.

You can follow Mindframe via twitter @MindframeMedia, of visitmindframe-media.info.

Marc Bryant is a former UK print journalist and now a program manager at the Hunter Institute of Mental Health, and manages the Mindframe project.

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