The media can play its part in reducing stigma around substance use

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The media can play its part in reducing stigma surrounding substance use, according to two University of Stirling academics.

The language, images and phrases used by the media are important in getting people to change the way they think about those who use alcohol and drugs, say Professor Tessa Parkes and Dr Hannah Carver from the University’s Faculty of Social Sciences.

Professor Parkes and Dr Carver, experts in the fields of substance use and harm reduction and the social policy related to both, caution media outlets against using negative imagery and judgmental language that has “shock and click-bait" value, when reporting on drug and alcohol use.

Words like ‘addict’, ‘alcoholic’ and ‘substance misuse’ come with judgement while “the go-to photography and footage, often a used syringe or empty bottle, bleak leaving conditions, and someone down on their luck, sends messages too,” they write in an article published today.

In the blog article, Professor Parkes and Dr Carver share their experiences of media coverage of the See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland campaign, launched by the University of Stirling and three other organisations this year to help end the stigma that surrounds those affected by the death of a loved one due to drugs and/or alcohol. 

Taking the form of letters written by people who have lost a loved one to drugs or alcohol, the campaign required “sensitive treatment” by the media, said Professor Parkes and Dr Carver, who made sure every journalist or presenter they engaged with as part of the campaign was sent some tips on sensitive reporting.

“Not many of us like to be told what to do in our professional or personal lives, particularly those working in the media,” they write. “And while we didn’t expect cooperation from all of the media outlets (29 and counting) that have covered our campaign, we are heartened by some of the reactions.”

In the blog, they share stories of a well-known print journalist who prided themselves on not using the word ‘addiction’ in their report, and a TV producer who shared the reporting tips with their team.

See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland was launched in May by the University of Stirling, Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems and The Salvation Army.  It is supported by Monica Lennon MSP and Miles Briggs MSP.

To read the full blog visit the University of Stirling public policy blog. 

For more information on the See Beyond campaign visit See Beyond – See the Lives – Scotland