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  • Writer's pictureOli Shawyer

Media and depression...

This morning I was asked about my thoughts regarding the Gary Lyon situation. Not because I know anything about Gary Lyon and not because I'm an AFL fan, but because I suffer from depression and  have worked tirelessly in my own way to help break down the stigma of the mental illness by telling my story.

Now before you decide this piece isn't for you, it's worth pointing out that I'm not actually here to talk about the Gary Lyon situation. I'm here to talk about the people writing about the Gary Lyon situation.

In fact, not just those people, but all of the people who have access to mainstream media outlets and write about any individual who is described as 'struggling with depression'.

In this morning's conversation, there was one question that threw me off, that more or less stopped me in my tracks: "Are you worried that depression is being used as an excuse for when people f#@k up publicly and need to be left alone?"

It's a fair question. But the question I've been asking myself a lot lately is: "Am I worried that depression is being set up by the media as a justifiable excuse for when people f#@k up publicly and need to be left alone?" In one word, yes.

I wouldn't be the first to think that the more we can get the issue in the headlines, the better. After all, if more people can see they're not alone in dealing with depression, if they know thousands of people are fighting the same battle, then more people will reach out for help. More people will speak up about it. More people will share their own story. Then... well, you get the point.

But the people writing these headline pieces about depression have a very important job. One they need to make sure they're doing right. And I'm concerned that many of them aren't, and by doing so, are promoting the wrong message.

As a communications specialist, I've learned that there's almost nothing more important than how a message is framed.

And of some of the recent pieces I've read, over many months, I've deep concern about how depression is being framed in our lives, and the devastating impact it will have if this trend continues.

I feel our media may be setting a very dangerous precedent: associating depression with excuses - something you can use to explain your behaviour during tough times, because that's the way it's being presented in the media.

As professional writers, whether for traditional newspapers, online publications or social media posts, you have a duty to give the topic the justice and context the respective stories deserve. That the respective sufferers deserve. If depression is central to the story, outline why. Don't just throw it in. Lazy journalism reproduced from press releases supplied by those with an interest in protecting a client rather than communicating a truth will prove to be very dangerous.

Writers must grasp the significant reality that 'off-the-cuff' comments and throw-away statements of depression to potentially justify a piece or sell a story can be the difference between someone fighting for another day, or giving up then and there.

If you treat the issue with little respect, care or education, you run the risk of diluting just how serious this issue is - undoing amazing work done by organisations like beyondblue, headspace, Black Dog Institute, Livin, hell, even me... organisations and individuals who have worked so hard to ensure depression isn't belittled and that the stigma associated with it doesn't get worse.

We want conversation about depression. We need conversation about depression. But we need to make sure it's the right conversation with the right message being taken away.

Dig deeper to not only report all of the facts but to also understand the breadth of them and what they mean to readers.

Depression is not an excuse or an easy out and we need to work harder to ensure it's not being framed that way. It's an illness that is literally the difference between life and death.


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