On Tuesday 23rd of November, BCFE media students attended a guest lecture conducted by Headline, an organisation which campaigns for the responsible reporting of mental illness and suicide in the media.
The guest lecture was delivered by Paul Barr, education officer for the organisation, and took place over the course of three hours.
Headline is Ireland’s national media programme for responsible reporting and representation of mental ill health and suicide. Their mission is to “reduce the effect of suicide contagion and to improve representations of mental illness,” explained Mr Barr. Some of Headline’s work involves monitoring over one hundred thousand articles, and to “look for non-compliance of the guidelines,” he added.
Mr Barr reminded the class of the impact the media can have when reporting on mental health, and that one in five people can experience mental health challenges at any point in time.
First and second year students in journalism and radio programming and production attended the lecture, organised by Jan Redmond, lecturer, and journalism diploma course co-ordinator.
“The anxiety levels as a result of Covid have been raised, and I thought that student journalists should understand how to report anxiety without causing further distress,” said Ms Redmond.
The guidelines applicable in Ireland were initially developed by charity group Samaritans and have since been adapted and tweaked by other organisations. They include a number of issues which journalists should avoid in their reporting, including describing any detail on the method of suicide or self-harm, attributing self-harm or suicide to a single reason or incident, describing suicide as a crime, and the glorification of self-harm. After learning these guidelines, the students were given the opportunity to practice their newly acquired skills with case studies.
One of the students found it very intense, but useful. “Since the workshop I have been paying attention to how suicide is reported in the media.” He found that in Ireland, those guidelines appeared to be followed, but was upset at some of the content he found in the UK outlets.
According to Ms Redmond, the students engaged thoroughly with the workshop: “I think they got what the guest lecturer was trying to alert them to,” she added.
Eric Byrne, a radio student, said he found the lecture highly informative: “I learned to be respectful to the families.” Another student felt knowledge of the guidelines should be “mandatory” for all journalists.
If you or anyone you know of has been affected by the subject matter, freephone Samaritans on 116 123, they are available 24 hours, 365 days of the year.
Also, you can visit Headline.ie for more information.