I’ve been relieved to see that more and more people are discussing mental illness lately. When done right, this is a good thing – people become more aware of the breadth and depth of the mental health crisis we have, and hopefully more likely to seek help themselves or encourage their loved ones to do the same.
As long as the topic is approached with sensitivity and empathy, there is no such thing as a “bad” mental health article. Some articles, however, can have more of an impact than others.
Which ones are those? The ones which focus on you or your loved ones.
Consider, for a moment, these articles which focus on specific professionals:
- Veterinarians are dying by suicide at high rates, beset by stress, death, and debt
- Doctors’ Suicide Rate Highest of Any Profession
- Architects and Engineers Are At Higher Risk of Suicide
Or these articles, which concentrate on age groups:
- Suicides and homicides on the rise in young people
- Isolated and struggling, many seniors are turning to suicide
Or these racially or location-focused articles:
- Suicide Attempts on the Rise Among Black Teens, But Research Says Data On Solutions Is Missing
- Suicide rates are rising, especially in rural America
If you reviewed all of these headlines and identified with any of them, you felt a moment of empathy. You probably felt a touch of happiness at being mentioned in a story like this. If you fell into any of the groups noted above, I bet you were a little more likely to click on the article and read more, and from there, maybe you found a useful piece of information. Maybe you found something that made you think of someone you loved. Maybe you filed a scrap of information away for later.
Either way, stigma and mental health campaigns work best when they are targeted at the person with someone that they recognize. Often times, in the work of mental health planning, you will hear conversations about the need for culturally competent campaigns – meaning campaigns where it’s people of varying ethnic and racial backgrounds.
I’ll take that one step further by point to the above. There’s no question that cultural competence in every area – including mental health conversations – is very important. However, it’s not the only one. We also need to have these conversations where the reader can look at someone and recognize them because of their job, their age group, their location, and that’s why these stories are so important.
Generalities aren’t enough. The more specific we can get – the more targeted we can be in our efforts to discus mental illness and stigma and suicide – the better our campaigns can be.