Mental Health and the Media — A Twitter space on how journalists can manage their mental health and proper suicide reportage

The Asido Campus Network of the University of Ibadan hosted a Twitter space on the 8th of June 2022 to discuss mental health and the media (news reporters and journalists). The space which was moderated by the Director of Media and Publicity, Williams Owoeye, had guest speakers that are professionals in journalism and mental health; Dr Dipo Kehinde, an investigative journalist; Lekan Otufodurin, executive director at Media Career Development Network; Martins Ifijeh, Contributing Member, THIS DAY editorial board, and Dr Jibril Abdulmalik, a doctor of psychiatry in the University College Hospital and founder of the Asido Foundation.

The space focused on how media houses can regulate the effect of covering and reporting sensitive issues on media personnels, especially on their mental health and that of the public; and guidelines on how to report suicide cases. It becomes pertinent to discuss these issues during these times when tragic happenings and sensitive news are on the increase everyday where the media personalities always have to dig in and source for facts and in the long run, mental stress becomes inevitable.

Asking Mr. Lekan Otufodunrin about how reporters cope with their mental health and the sides taken by media houses, the moderator spoke on how pressmen have to endure tragic and unpleasant scenes/situations in the bid to dig up factual news; he cited the recent Owo massacre as an example, a journalist who is interested in the story would most probably have to go through the delicate details over and over again which might include visiting the scene, searching for and seeing details that might be highly uncomfortable, to report the news. According to Mr. Lekan, not until recently did some media houses start taking extra care of their reporters. More often than not, some media houses do not care for the overall health of their reporters and they are laid off as soon as they develop any health condition that affects their productivity. Media houses need reforms and a journalist-centred workspace to cater for the needs of reporters because contrary to popular opinion, journalists are humans and not superhumans although they go superhuman lengths to get us informed, get justice for people and sometimes unveil the hidden rots in our society.

Dr. Jibril spoke and give basic tips on how journalists can protect their mental health, at the least. He mentioned the mostly overlooked vitality of rest and sleep, healthy diet (because there is no health without mental health), investing in wholesome relationships that one can turn to when work becomes overwhelming, maintaining good coping strategies and avoiding drugs as a coping mechanism, because it’s deleterious in the long run; and most importantly, understanding the importance of seeking professional help when needed, without shame, fear or uncertainty.

Addressing media houses, he said they should also contribute to the welfare of their staffs. They should not just invest in quality equipments and standard reporting, but also create a safe and healthy working environment, a good employer/employee relationship. Work pressure, unhealthy relationships, toxic/horrible bosses and co workers would add to the strain of having to report certain type of news. Bullying and any form of harassment is a misconduct that should be highly frowned upon, it shouldn’t be condoned in any form, noting that workers could even commit suicide when they suffer from constant bullying and toxicity.

Mr. Martins Ifijeh, a co-author of the “The Morning After- A Guide for Media Reporting and Prevention of suicide in Nigeria” talked about the effects of wrong Suicide reportage. According to him, the inspiration and necessity to write the book came when he understudied the suicide reports and how it triggered the copy-cat syndrome in other people.

Suicide should be reported appropriately, without blaming the victim or giving off the details of the action in the report.

Taking the mic, Dr. Dipo gave some basic facts about the state of mental health, disorders, suicide etc in Nigeria. He said that over 1,000 patients are treated everyday in the Neuropsychiatric hospital, Yaba and that there has been a recent spike in the number. Considering the state of the society today, he posited the reasons are not far fetched. Statistics shows that about 3 in 10 Nigerians have a mental disorder. Also, about 1.4 million cases of Borderline Personality Disorder and Manic depression are recorded every year. On Suicide, more than 700,000 people die by suicide each year, and for each death, there’d be about 20 attempts. The method through which suicide cases are reported in Nigeria violates the World Health Organization’s stipulated guidelines. These guidelines include:

  • Suicide should not be reported by crime reporters but health journalists or development reporters. It is only appropriate that suicide, being a health (mental health) issue is reported by the right people. It is not a crime.
  • They should not be sensational, but sensitive. The reporter should be sensitive to the gravity of suicide, and its effect on the audience. Also, he shouldn’t have "personal opinions".
  • Suicide is suicide.
  • Suicide reporters should desist from using derogatory languages like “Mad”, “insane” e.t.c
  • Don’t assume link between mental illness and violence. Some people have a perchance for attaching violence to mental illnesses, it should not be so.
  • Avoid use of derogatory terms/slangs such as "happy pills" for antidepressants. The right/exact terms should be used.
    Don’t glorify, distort, or provide information about methods of suicide.

However, the Dos of reporting mental ill health by National Union of Journalists, United Kingdom are :

  • Report mental ill health sensitively.
  • Use correct diagnosis where appropriate.
  • Offer helplines/contact details which people can utilise.

On advocating, we still need to advocate for the signing of the mental health bill into law because suicide is still criminalized in Nigeria. A part of its criminal code states that anyone who attempts suicide is guilty of a demeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year. However, 80-90% of the people who attempt suicide suffer from depression and/or any other mental issue, and anyone who attempts suicide and fails, they all need to be helped mental professionals, not arrayed as criminals. Suicide is a psychological, and not a legal issue.

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Asido Campus Network

Asido Campus Network is a student led mental health promoting club and the youth arm of the Asido Foundation dedicated in ensuring optimal mental health