Chatham journalist develops tool to improve mental health reporting

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Chatham’s Karissa Gall has developed software aimed at making it easier for journalists to avoid using terminology that could lead to stigma around mental health.

A Chatham woman hopes to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness through a special software program she’s developed.

Karissa Gall, a journalist who grew up in Chatham and began her career here, teamed up with the Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma to launch the Media Guide-o-Matic, a free plugin on the WordPress platform.

Many news outlets, including The Chatham Voice, utilize WordPress for the uploading of information to their website.

Her plugin works in a similar manner as how spell-checking tools automatically check for spelling mistakes. Media Guide-o-Matic automatically checks draft WordPress posts for words and phrases that have been identified as contributors to stigma in the third edition of Mindset: Reporting on Mental Health.

Gall, who obtained her masters in journalism from Carleton University in 2018, developed the idea to come out with the plugin while at the Ottawa school. But it began earlier south of the border.

“It’s a bit unique for a masters’ project for a journalism degree. This usually entails a documentary or a long-form piece,” she said.

Gall credited NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen for sparking the idea. She attended that university in 2016.

“He challenged us to solve a problem in media,” she said, referring to her time at the school. “It’s all about trying to solve that problem. The simplest way to add value is to save the user time. This will save people time.”

Gall hopes it will help educate journalists on which terms are acceptable and which aren’t, as well as giving reporters confidence when tackling mental health stories.

Stigma can cause people to avoid seeking mental health treatment, under-reporting of illness, and under-provision of mental health services. At the same time, with everyone’s mental health being tested by the pandemic, asking for help is more important than ever, Gall said.

Gall worked with Ottawa-based digital marketing firm Flewid to develop the plugin, with partial funding from the Forum. She said the tool was developed for WordPress because it is the most popular content management system in the world.

“My hope is that newsrooms and other types of organizations around the world will download and enable this free tool,” she said. “As André Picard wrote in the foreword for Mindset, journalists should be as willing to write about depression as breast cancer. This plugin will help them do so ethically and efficiently, with confidence.”

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