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July 2011
Training of media personnel on reporting psycho traumatic events by the Institute of Psycho Trauma Pakistan

The significance of communication and the tremendous impact of the media on the mindset of general public are well established facts today. The role of media is vital in community education, development and awareness of important civic, social and political issues. The media has played a major role in global awareness and understanding, of the recent series of disasters, both natural and man-made.  The importance of disseminating reliable and correct information on disasters to the people is crucial for disaster preparedness and disaster handling.
 
The fact that the electronic media assumes greater significance for faster dissemination of information, and that aspects of print, broadcast, film and ‘new media’ (TV, VIDEO) are related to their interactions with psychiatry, it is vital that the media has the basic knowledge of psychiatry. The dominance of ‘human interest’ stories and negative representation of people with mental illness in media does disservice to the discipline of psychiatry. It is therefore extremely crucial that the psychiatrists take a lead in sharing their knowledge with the media personnel. Particularly, the need to create awareness of psychosocial aftermath of trauma, the negative aspect of sensationalizing news items on the mental and physical health of general public, and the vital role of media in promoting positive aspects of society, in a developing country.

There is a dire need for inclusion of psychological trauma in the professional media training curriculum. An appreciable disparity exists between the need for services by professionals with expertise in psychological trauma and the availability of these services. Despite the establishment of a solid base of scientific literature on trauma and the growing attunement of society and the media to the adverse psychological impact of traumatic events, this area has yet to be decisively incorporated into the core curriculum of graduate training in professions dealing with the community directly, like social services and media.

Pakistan in the last few decades has experienced both natural and man-made disasters. Frequent bomb blasts and terrorist attacks were a common occurrence in the last decade. This, along with deteriorating law and order situation, has led to an increasing toll on the mental health of the general public. Post traumatic and acute stress disorders are further fueled by horrific media footages and gory details of the incidents.

The reporting of provocative aspects of traumatic events, and often neglecting contextual information leads to unnecessary fear in the general public, along with inaccurate perceptions of the events portrayed. On the contrary, if media portrays crime and violence as issues of public health, then consumers of news media might develop a more accurate conceptual understanding of their underlying causes and improve prevention and response tactics accordingly.

Similarly, for several years many organizations working in suicide prevention have been frustrated and concerned about the media reports on suicide. Despite recommendations media seemed to not pay attention to them and instead often blatantly did the opposite of safe reporting. In some cases this created a contagion effect leading to an even greater tragedy. In May 2009, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) held a New Media Summit which brought together representatives from suicide prevention, mental health, online communities, as well as federal officials, to look at the changes in media created by social media.

The news media must see examples of risky vs. safe reporting on suicide. It is vital to add messages of hope, current research information, and a section on bloggers and online reporting is crucial; also the warning signs of suicide and how to help must be known to the media reporters.

Journalists have an amazing incredible ability to inform, educate, motivate and change people. Media equals influence. That is the challenge psychiatrists face because too often we miss opportunities, the right people are not involved in the process, and sometimes that results in the wrong messages being shared with the public. If the clinician is sensitive to the reporter's needs and the reporter wants to do it right, a powerful piece can be written or aired that can save a life.

The Institute of Psycho Trauma Pakistan (IPTP) has taken a lead in Pakistan to start courses and workshops for media for reporting trauma. Aspects of psycho social consequences of psycho trauma must be fairly understood for humane media reporting. Thus IPTP has planned to conduct workshops in collaboration with, and in partnership with media associations. It is hoped that this collaboration will lead to a world of difference, and to extremely useful and conducive media reporting, and helping our communities to handle traumatic events in a healthier manner.
 
A Manual for Media Reporting is also prepared for distribution to both the print and other media channel organizations.

Unaiza Niaz
Chair, Section on Women’s Mental Health

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