Why create an Essential Guide for Journalists on Health and Mental Disorder issues? A guide of this nature is not usual, but in the opinion of the Portuguese Society of Psychiatry and Mental Health (SPPSM) this guide makes perfect sense. Let’s see why… Although mental disorder falls within the clinical domain – the psychiatric clinic – and the specialty that diagnoses and treats it – Psychiatry – is a medical specialty, the consequences of mental disorder are felt, above all, in the domain of behavior. It can therefore be said that mental disorders are behavioral disorders.
Now, behavior is the code that allows us to interact socially, it is one of the main elements of common sense. A disturbance that affects behavior necessarily affects this code of interaction and, consequently, this common sense. In such a way that, for a layman, it is not easy to distinguish a change in this behavior, by force of will (even if perverse) from a change in it due to the pathology. And here we get to the heart of stigma: we tend to stigmatize all behaviors that don’t fit common sense.
As we tend to explain even what we don’t understand, we explain changes in behavior in the light of our common sense, considering these behaviors as aberrations to be eliminated. In other words, mental disorders have suffered stigmatization throughout history due to the difficulty of science to explain these behavioral changes. Hence, over time the person with a mental disorder has been seen as “crazy”, as someone who deviated (because he wanted to) from common sense. These preconceived ideas have been so strong and persistent that they resist even now that science presents explanations for these behaviors. .
Therefore, one of the main ways of fighting stigma is information. Generalist information, as it is the one that penetrates most deeply into the consciousness of populations. And, in the information era, who better than the media to deliver that information? But to fulfill this task they too must be enlightened about what the medical art and science today say about mental disorder. Hence the relevance of this guide.
A first step towards, above all, informing the population about people with mental disorders, their condition as patients and the treatment possibilities that exist. A first step to overcome the stigmatized condition and lead the person with mental disorder to the condition of a human being affected by a disease.
It is true that this task is the work of a society and the media is the institutionalized voice of that same society.
João Marques Teixeira, president of SPPSM