Media Illness, Mentalympians & Me

I made a presentation today at the ACT Australian Nursing Federation’s Biennial Conference in Canberra, entitled ‘Media Illness, Mentalympians & Me’.  The theme for the conference was ‘Conciliation & Compromise in Industrial Relations & Social Justice.

My presentation addressed that news and entertainment media’s negative and distorted depictions of mental illness act as a barrier to recovery in terms of producing both societal stigma and fostering internalized stigma (self stigma).

As addressed by Albert Bandura, self-efficacy is key to overcoming major obstacles in life. “Unless people believe they can produce desired effects by their actions, they have little incentive to undertake activities or to persevere in the face of difficulties” (2010).  Bandura’s also identified that the 2nd most effective method of increasing someone’s self-efficacy is through observation of positive social models.  Since media, in general, does not provide examples of people who have experienced mental health recovery, individuals struggling with mental illness do not believe that it is possible for their lives to improve.  Consequently, millions of people in the world suffer from a false sense of hopelessness.

Heather Stuart’s work on the portrayal of the negative and distorted image of mental illness and treatments by news and entertainment provides a damning picture of the effects of media. “The consequences of negative media images for people who have a mental illness are profound.  They impair self-esteem, help-seeking behaviours, medication adherence and overall recovery” (2006).

It is for these reasons that it is important that media initiatives are created that promote awareness of recovery, inspire hope, reduce internalized stigma and increase self-efficacy.  The purpose of mentalympians.org is to establish an online mental health community channel which will accomplish these goals, while also connecting individuals to local services and activities, and being a catalyst for activism to effectively lobby for adequate mental health funding and against discrimination.

As part of this initiative, a new mental health social network has just been created for anyone interested in mental health: mentalympians.org/community

I concluded my presentation by sharing my personal story of experiencing depression and psychosis in Canada, and my subsequent recovery in Australia (The Naked Advocate 2006) (Canberra Times 2010).

It was a wonderful audience and a truly enjoyable experience.  As I mentioned before finishing today, I still remember the kindness of the nursing staff at the Queen Street Hospital in Toronto in 1996 after I experienced a life-altering psychotic episode.

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