**UPDATE (19/7/18) – The Dorset Echo have updated their article to include some of Marianne’s letter, but have not acknowledged our request to meet to discuss their reporting of mental health**
The Dorset Echo yesterday published a highly dramatised article about self harm that was alarmist – under the headline ‘Weymouth and Portland have the highest number of people hospitalised for self-harm in the South West.’
The article was written WITHOUT reaching out to local organisations (like us, Dorset Healthcare, the Bournemouth Samaritans, Dorset Mental Health Forum etc.) that offer support in the areas affected.
Self harm is a hugely serious issue.
It’s also hugely irresponsible to not offer details of help available in the local area when reporting alarming statistics.
Letter to the editor about the reporting of self harm
Here’s the letter that our CEO Marianne Storey submitted to the Dorset Echo Editor this morning in response:
I write in response to your article of 16th June 2018 about admissions to hospital for self harm from the communities of Weymouth and Portland. The purpose of my letter is to urge you to think again, and to change your angle when reporting on issues relating to mental health.
There is a wealth of evidence that links a higher prevalence of mental health difficulties with communities that are less affluent than others. And so it is no surprise that admissions for self harm are higher from the Weymouth and Portland area than from other areas in Dorset like, say Sandbanks. And so your news story is somewhat misleading by suggesting that there is some other reason for the higher number like a lack of support services.
The truth is, self harm is a complicated and very serious issue and can take many different forms. Usually it is a symptom of an underlying mental health struggle. It is a means by which a person, experiencing very difficult emotions or feelings, deals with that mental pain – particularly at times when those painful feelings become overwhelming.
But the good news is that there IS plenty of support available. If someone has feelings of wanting to hurt themselves they should always go to their GP and, at times when those feelings become overwhelming people can phone the Samaritans. There are specialist NHS services in the area who can help.
But actually we ALL have a responsibility to start changing the conversations we have about mental health.
So many people suffer in silence and struggle alone because of the stigma of talking about what they are experiencing. And that stops them reaching out for help. If, as a society, we ALL became more open about our mental health and talked regularly about how we were coping with the mental stresses and strains of life, no-one would have to suffer in silence. Because it would be OK to talk. And talking is always the first step towards becoming mentally well.
Take action – report consciously
So I urge you, madam editor, to take a moment before publishing future articles that refer to statistics and mental health. Instead of over-dramatising a story that isn’t really a story, please, instead, urge your readers to take up arms and change the conversations they are having. Please urge them to reach out to their friends and neighbours and ask them not ‘how are you’ but ‘how are you coping with life’. Make the headline ‘How can we help?’ instead of the tired old regime of banging on about a lack of support services. the reality is that the real solution actually starts with you. You, me, and every single member of our Dorset community.
Please do your bit. It is time to change.”
Chief Executive Officer
We welcome a response and will post any updates on our twitter feed.