Comprehensive guide


Quick tips

Points to consider when discussing mental illness with the media:

  • When considering whether or not to participate in the story, ask yourself: does it provide an opportunity to contribute to community understanding of mental health and mental illness?
  • Provide the media with qualified expert comment and/or advice where possible.
  • Provide appropriate helpline contacts (telephone and online) and information about treatment and support options.
  • Avoid language that is labelling or stigmatising and provide alternatives when media professionals use such language.
  • Be careful that you don’t inadvertently reinforce stereotypes such as those that link mental illness with violence or suggest people with mental illness are unable to work or lead fulfilling lives.
  • Consumers and carers considering talking to the media should have adequate information to make a decision about participation and have access to appropriate support throughout the process.
  • Whenever possible promote the Mindframe for media professionals website and resources to the media.

MHS IconConsider whether to participate in the story

The following factors should be considered when deciding whether to be involved in a media report:

  • Are you or your organisation able to provide comment or advice to media professionals? Are you the most appropriate organisation or person to be commenting on the issue in question? Do you have the time and people available to work with the media?
  • Familiarise yourself with relevant organisational media policies. These should provide guidance about which people within the organisation are authorised to speak with the media and on which particular issues.
  • Does the story have the potential to contribute to better understanding of mental health and mental illness in the wider community? Is there potential to include information that will assist in dispelling myths and stereotypes, provide accurate information about illnesses and their treatment, or provide details of services available for those experiencing mental illness?
  • While you always have the option of saying ‘no’ you may also want to consider the impact of not participating in a story. That is, the story may still be run without expert comment and advice. Would this outcome be worse than if you did participate? Sometimes, even negative stories can provide an opportunity for education, or at the very least the inclusion of helpline numbers or other support information.
  • What type of media is making the approach and are you best placed to provide them with information? Do they have a national, state or local audience? Do they require general information, specific information for a particular community group, or information related to a specific incident?  

Provide expert comment/advice

If your organisation is in a position to provide advice or comment to the media it may be useful to compile a list of qualified people within the organisation and the aspects of mental health, mental illness and/or mental health care they can speak to the media about. One individual may not be an expert on all aspects of the issue.

If you are providing an expert for comment, make sure they are familiar with the Mindframe principles outlined on this website. Always look for opportunities to provide appropriate information on mental illness and mental health care that debunks some commonly held myths. The information may not be included in the story, but it may influence the way the story is written.

If the information requested is on issues that lie outside your area of experience or expertise, refer media professionals to a suitable local or national expert in the field. Alternatively you can refer them to the Story sources and contacts section of the Mindframe for media professionals section of this website.

You may want to designate at least one person who can discuss ‘ways of reporting mental illness’ with media professionals who approach your organisation and ensure they are aware of the Mindframe for media professionals resources. This may most naturally be a public affairs unit or an identified media liaison representative. For smaller organisations, a designated person who is informed about the issues may be appointed.


Provide appropriate helpline contacts (telephone and online)

Vulnerable individuals may be distressed by stories about mental illness. Alternatively, the story may prompt someone experiencing mental illness to seek help. Therefore, it is important that contact information for relevant organisations is included with all reports about mental illness.

Where possible provide media professionals with helpline contacts (telephone and online) and treatment and support options for those who may be affected by the report. Suggest that this information be included somewhere in the report, or at the end of the report.

Some contact details for national helplines and other services are contained in the Contacts section of this website. Alternatively refer the journalist to the Mindframe for media professionals section of this website.

It is important to provide support information relevant to the audience of each story. For most reports it will be appropriate to cite a national helpline/online contact such as the one provided by SANE Australia on 1800 18 SANE(7263) as well as the local mental health service (if the story is local in focus). However, you may also want to consider contact details for particular population groups.

Preparing a list of contacts (both local and national), that your organisation could use in stories will assist you when deciding which details to give to media professionals. This may be particularly useful when information is required within a short deadline.

  • MHS IconAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians may prefer to see a doctor or health worker at their local Aboriginal Medical Service. Contact details for all states can be found on the VIBE website at www.vibe.com.au.
  • For Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds it would be useful to include contact details for the relevant state transcultural mental health service or local multicultural mental health service, as well as the national Telephone Interpreter Service (13 14 50). Information on services is available from Mental Health in Multicultural Australia on 1300 136 289 or at www.mhima.org.au.
  • For young Australians it would be more useful to provide the Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800, contacts details for local Child and Youth Services or websites such as www.headspace.org.au and www.reachout.com.au.


Use appropriate language

The language used when reporting on mental illness plays a big role in keeping alive stereotypes, myths and stigma. Unfortunately, people involved in mental health are not always aware of the language that they use – especially in stressful situations like conducting a media interview. Journalists will pick up on the language used by mental health spokespeople and are unlikely to edit ‘direct quotes’ even when they recognise that the language may not be helpful.

It is important that the language used is consistent with that suggested for media professionals. Remember that your comments potentially reach many members of the community. Avoid labelling or stigmatising language and suggest alternatives if this language is used by media professionals.

When talking about mental health and mental illness with the media:

  • Avoid negative language, e.g. ‘deranged’, ‘mental patient’, lunatic asylum’.
  • Avoid referring to someone as ‘a victim’, ‘suffering from’ or ‘afflicted’ with mental illness or any language that suggests mental illness is a life sentence – e.g. a person is not ‘a schizophrenic’, they are ‘currently experiencing’, ‘being treated for’ or ‘have a diagnosis of schizophrenia’.
  • Be careful not to imply that all mental illnesses are the same and ensure that correct terminology is used when a diagnosis is referred to.
  • Be aware of the language you use when referring to someone leaving hospital – e.g. a person is ‘discharged’ from hospital not ‘released’ and they ‘leave’ or ‘abscond,’ they don’t ‘escape’ .
  • Ensure that medical terminology is not used out of context, e.g. ‘schizophrenic policy’.

Special attention to language must also be taken when providing information about mental illness, mental health and suicide for use in multi-lingual media. In many cultures ‘mental illness’ is a foreign and ambiguous concept. If understood at all, it can be heavily stigmatised and the idea of recovery is almost unknown. Often the terms used by the mental health sector cannot be translated into other languages, as these languages may have no equivalent term and the literal translations are misleading or meaningless. Use plain English and remove colloquial terms and jargon. You may choose to check with an interpreter whether any of the concepts you plan to refer to need further explanation.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians are generally not comfortable with ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ and prefer instead that health is presented in the context of social and emotional wellbeing. For more information see The National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health which can be found in the consumer section of the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing website at www.health.gov.au.


Avoid negative stereotypes

While language is important, it is not the only factor that contributes to stereotypes. The type of information presented in a report may also reinforce stereotypes such as those that link mental illness with violence or suggest people with mental illness are unable to work, parent or lead fulfilling lives.
Below are some examples of how you can challenge stereotypes through the information you give to media professionals.

  • If a story is about a particular individual (or individuals) living with mental illness, encourage inclusion of information that presents a balanced view of the person as more than just their illness. This might include information that shows them participating in work, relationships, sport or other aspects of community life.
  • Be aware that the media may sometimes link mental illness with violence. If they are seeking background to a story involving a violent act by a person with a specific diagnosis, firstly question the relevance of the person’s mental illness to the story. Secondly, you may want to take the opportunity to provide the person with accurate facts about the association between mental illness and violence (see Mental Illness Facts and Statistics).
  • In any stories about mental health or mental illness, encourage media professionals to include information that demonstrates that mental illness is not a life sentence and that while some people may be quite disabled by their illness, many more can recover fully and participate in all aspects of society.


Consumer and carer involvement

While many people who have or have had a mental illness are happy to speak to the media, talking publicly can be a difficult and distressing experience. It is important therefore that consumers and carers considering media work have access to appropriate support throughout the experience. In particular, assistance may be required when making the decision whether to participate or not.

Think about what your motivation is for talking to the media. If you see it as an opportunity to tell your story then you may wish to consider other options, for example community education forums. Media professionals will usually have a purpose in compiling a report that is broader than just telling an individual's story and this may lead to you being disappointed with the outcome.

Some points for consumers and carers to consider include:

  • It may be worthwhile gaining the support of an advocacy or peak organisation before being involved in media interviews. They may have a designated person responsible for media liaison who can assist in setting up the interview and providing additional support;
  • Obtain adequate information before making a decision about whether to participate. Ask the media professional about the story and what would be required of you;
  • Remember that you can say “no”;
  • Consider arranging to have a support person present throughout the interview, and/or the opportunity to debrief afterwards;
  • Make sure you are familiar with the Mindframe principles and have access to a copy of this resource;
  • If you are going to have a regular role as a media spokesperson you may wish to consider media training.

It is best to participate in an interview if you:

  • Are currently well, and believe that participating will not cause you unmanageable stress;
  • Have good support;
  • Feel confident talking to the media and talking about the subject matter;
  • Feel your right to privacy will be respected;
  • Trust that the motives of the journalist will fit with your reasons for wanting to do the interview;
  • Are comfortable with the effect your participation may have on your family or community.

If you are not confident of any of the above issues it may be better to wait and participate at another time.


Refer journalists to the Mindframe for media professionals section of this website

At every opportunity, either through telephone discussions, in person or through press releases and other correspondence, ensure that the media professional concerned knows about and has access to the Mindframe for media professionals resources.

Refer journalists to this website (www.mindframe-media.info) or attach PDF copies of quick reference cards (available from the Downloads section of this site) in an email or press release. It is recommended that the Mindframe site be added to the bottom of all correspondence with media professionals.