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Journalists launch their own guide to mental health reporting

LONDON, ON, April 22, 2014 /CNW/ - Canadian journalists have created a new guide to mental health reporting - the first to come from within the news industry itself.  It promotes more factual coverage; fairer, less stigmatizing treatment of the 20% of Canadians experiencing mental illness; and the airing of systemic issues in mental health care across the country.

The new resource, available in English or French, comprises a pair of 'field guides' for quick reference and two associated websites for elaboration and discussion.  The guides will be made available without charge to journalists, news organizations and journalism schools across the country.

Mindset: Reporting on Mental Health will be launched at the Glenn Gould Studio at the CBC Broadcast Centre in Toronto on the evening of Thursday, April 24.  The French version, En-Tête : reportage et santé mentale, will be introduced at an event in Montreal in May.

Among well-known journalists who have contributed to the project are André Picard of the Globe and Mail, Linden MacIntyre of CBC, Katia Gagnon of La Presse, and Radio-Canada's Pierre Craig, who is president of the Federation of Professional Journalists of Quebec.

The project has been led by the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma, an educational charity promoting the physical and emotional safety of journalists, with CBC News as media partner. It was made possible, in part, by funding from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.  The Forum has editorial control.

"It's time to toss out unscientific myths and taboos," said Forum president Cliff Lonsdale. "The issues are too important, too urgent, to go on being masked by ignorance or unease. The tide has already begun to turn in favour of more accurate, more factual, more probing reporting about people with mental disorders. Next comes the flood, and it should critically alter the way we all look at mental illness - one more in a long line of social issues journalism has helped change for the better."

Louise Bradley, Mental Health Commission of Canada President and CEO, said, "We know that journalists play a pivotal role in influencing how Canadians think about and how other journalists report on mental health issues. Mindset is a field guide for journalists by journalists - people who understand the news business from the inside. Our role at the MHCC was one of facilitation. Our faith that journalists would do a good job paid off.  We're proud to have helped make this good and necessary work possible."

The guide shows that people with mental disorders are hardly ever violent or a threat to others, and that recovery is generally the norm.  Most Canadians will find themselves at different places along the continuum from mental illness to mental health in their lifetimes.

"It reinforces the idea that there's no distinction between 'them' and 'us'," said Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor-in-Chief of CBC News. "We're all in this together. That needs to be reflected in the way we cover news stories involving mental illness - especially dramatic ones that make headlines and have such a powerful impact on people's perceptions and prejudices.  CBC News is supporting the project because it makes for better journalism, and that's what we're all about."

Intended for general-assignment reporters and editors and for journalism students, the guide gives practical information on a variety of aspects of mental illness, including legal processes, descriptions of specific disorders, varying approaches to treatment, medical facts surrounding addiction and updated advice on covering suicides. It aims to reduce stigmatizing collateral damage that can be inflicted when journalists without detailed knowledge in the mental health area have to file to tight deadlines.

The Toronto launch of Mindset will feature a panel discussion between André Picard, neuropsychiatrist Dr. Anthony Feinstein and Karen Liberman, a mental health advisor with personal experience of depression.  The discussion will be moderated by David Common, CBC News correspondent and host of World Report.

SOURCE Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma

Image with caption: "Field guide is intended for general-assignment reporters (CNW Group/Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20140422_C4560_PHOTO_EN_39502.jpg

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