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Keywords:

  • inquiry;
  • media;
  • mental health;
  • risk perception;
  • rural;
  • violence

The media is an important source of public information on mental ill-health. A man with a serious psychiatric illness attacked a minister with a knife at a Remembrance Sunday service in a remote, rural part of the Highlands, inflicting a severe facial wound. We aimed to identify lessons for the National Health Service (NHS) from the media coverage of the incident and of a subsequent court case and NHS Highland inquiry and in addition to explore how newspaper reporters approached reporting such incidents. We searched local and regional, national Scottish, and the Scottish editions of three UK newspapers for relevant coverage. We also conducted structured telephone interviews with eight reporters who had attended the inquiry press conference. Most of the media coverage was associated with the assault and the court case, rather than the inquiry results. Only three of 10 inquiry recommendations were mentioned in any reports. Coverage largely dealt with identified shortfalls, rather than proposed solutions. The NHS had made little comment in advance of the announcement of the inquiry results. Most of the newspaper coverage had already occurred. The NHS therefore limited its opportunity to influence newspaper coverage. The interpretation of the results is limited by the size of the study, but the coverage of such events forms part of the discourse on mental health in the media episodes and may have some affect on public perception of mental health issues. We conclude that, without providing confidential information, the NHS should take a more active stance in providing information on the nature and treatment of mental illness in such instances, even in advance of court cases.