Breaking Down Barriers: Effective strategies for tackling stigma and taboos in the media

In today’s media landscape, certain health conditions and topics are still stigmatised. Not deemed ‘palatable’ enough for morning breakfast TV or perceived common enough to cover. However, media coverage is an incredibly effective tool for breaking down stigma. Not only does coverage influence public perception, but it can also impact the wellbeing of people affected by these conditions as they see themselves represented.

Here we discuss effective strategies to challenge stigma and taboos in relation to healthcare communications.

Elevate authentic voices and lived experience

One of the most powerful ways to combat stigma is by amplifying the voices of those with lived experience. As Healthcare communications professionals, we can empower people to share their stories and advocate for what matters to them. Personal stories humanise the issue, challenge stereotypes, and create empathy among audiences. Even if audiences haven’t heard of a specific health condition, they can relate to the shared humanity of a story which may encompass pain, hope and growth. As well as working with those living with conditions, there’s the opportunity to tell the stories of families and healthcare professionals involved in the topic too.

Promote accurate and responsible reporting

By working with journalists, we play a crucial role in responsible reporting. This can include sharing accurate data and statistics, as well as providing the correct, non-stigmatising language. For example, saying someone ‘suffers’ from a condition has negative connotations, implying someone is unwell and unhappy. Whilst the public may only see the final published piece, there is significant contribution behind the scenes which ensures that audiences are reading up-to-date and respectful articles.

Leverage celebrity and influencer partnerships

Celebrities and influencers have the power to shape conversations and change perceptions. For example, Louise Thompson recently revealed she has been fitted with a stoma bag following years of living with Ulcerative Colitis. As you can see from the post below, Louise proudly introduced her stoma which she has referred to as ‘the grey bag that may well have saved my life’. This story was covered extensively by news outlets, generating conversation.

Identify and partner with those who are passionate about destigmatising health conditions and raising awareness. You can read more about how best to engage celebrity and influencer partners here.

Collaborate on video content

Compelling healthcare campaign films have the power to stop you in your tracks and generate an emotional response. The sometimes visceral telling of someone’s story can really bring to life what it’s like to live with a health condition. Factor this into your integrated campaign activity. As well as for use within media activity, video content can be an extremely powerful asset for social, leading to greater understanding and engagement. See our work with Smile Train, where we told the stories of cleft-affected individuals, who had faced stigma, here.

Advocate for inclusive representation

Representation matters, and it’s essential to ensure that those with stigmatised health conditions are portrayed in a diverse and authentic manner. Even if you’re not running an awareness campaign on a specific health condition, you can still ensure that you’re working with people from different communities and backgrounds, and including their stories in your work.

By working together through a strategic PR campaign, we can play a pivotal role in challenging stigma and taboos surrounding health conditions in the media. Through authentic storytelling, responsible reporting, and inclusive representation, we can do our bit to encourage more compassion, promote inclusivity and inform others, ultimately improving the lives of those affected by these conditions.

To find out how our Healthcare Communications team could support you and your business, get in touch today.

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