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Us and them

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7383.291 (Published 01 February 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:291
  1. Andy Bell (andy.bell@scmh.org.uk), director of communications
  1. Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health, London

    Mental health has recently been big news again. Two entirely unrelated incidents have rekindled the media's interest in a topic that, for most of the year, receives scant attention. In both cases the suspects had histories of mental illness which, long before either stand trial for their alleged crimes, were discussed exhaustively in the national press.

    Mental health is, with the partial exception of HIV, almost unique among health issues in the media. To understand this, it is important first to be aware of how media organisations work. Almost all UK media are businesses. They exist to make their proprietors money. Most media make the majority of their money from the advertising space they sell to other businesses which are, in effect, the paying customers to whom we, the audience, are the delivered product.

    Advertising aims to address its audience as consumers, appealing to the aspirations and fears we have for ourselves and our families. It is in the …

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