Reporting mental health: Sian Williams

Former BBC Breakfast presenter Sian Williams took a psychology degree to complement her work as a journalist. She talks about covering stories that involve people with mental health issues.

News programmes should discuss mental health issues with clarity, honesty and openness. It is vital to ensure contributors feel at ease.

But before any interviewing or recording can begin it is crucial to consider whether vulnerable people who are experiencing mental health problems - be that through disability or bereavement, for instance - have the capacity to give fully informed consent.

Should a professional opinion be sought to help in that assessment and to judge the possible impact of the broadcast on the contributor?

Similarly, once production is under way, are the vulnerable individual’s expectations of privacy being fairly met? Has it been made clear that personal information about their condition will be made known to a wide audience?

These and other considerations are covered in specific BBC editorial guidelines on working with vulnerable contributors

Sian Williams took a MSc psychology degree to understand the responsibility journalists have. Here she explains what she has learned and how journalists can accurately reflect the mental health sector.

She speaks to Shea Wong, a media volunteer for the charity Time to Change, who is living with bipolar disorder, and Sue Baker, director of Time to Change.

Sian stresses that people should be treated as individuals rather than symptoms, not be stereotyped by their condition, and that journalists need to be careful about the language they use - people ‘live with’ schizophrenia rather than ‘suffer from’ it.