James Packer (Image: AAP)

When James Packer announced yesterday he was stepping down as director of Crown Resorts for mental health reasons, news outlets started pumping out backgrounders and timelines of his life and times.

And the newspapers today have extensive coverage, with much of it by the book when it comes to mental health reporting.

The Australian and The Australian Financial Review ran stories on their front pages, and The Daily Telegraph and The Age both had pointers to inside stories on their covers. Many of the stories included comments or observations from “friends” or associates on Packer’s recent mental health, including one from The Sydney Morning Herald. The News Corp papers have published on their websites an opinion piece from former federal MP Andrew Robb. 

But some of the most interesting detail comes from the Fins Aaron Patrick, who was writing a now-dropped book on Packer and was tasked by the paper to write this feature. In it, Patrick quotes from an email Packer sent when a journalist asked about his mental health last year, and writes: “When I wrote to Packer last November telling him that friends were concerned about his mental health, he threatened to sue me if I went ahead with the book. He accused me of acting with malice, a legal designation that leaves journalists and their publishers open to aggravated damages in defamation lawsuits.”

Marc Bryant is program manager for Everymind, which manages the Mindframe initiative, and told Crikey that overall the coverage he’d seen so far of Packer’s announcement had been within mental health reporting guidelines, and was probably helpful.

“We don’t tell the media what is in the public interest, but the fact that he’s James Packer and a public figure means that it probably will be reported. It’s important that we talk about these things, but that doesn’t meant he’s fair game for stimatisation” he said. “That message of, he’s had some tough times over the years, and now he’s taking a step back, he’s got to be commended for having an open discussion.” 

Bryant said having a discussion about people, and in particular, men, dealing with mental health issues in the media was important for reducing stigma. But he said after the initial coverage, it would be important for the media to step back and allow Packer and his support network to recover.

“We hope the media, like they have when they’ve covered other well known figures, there’s a time when it’s time to turn the media lens away to allow them time to recover, both for the figure and their friends and carers,” he said. “In the coming days, it’s important that the media when they’re interviewing various people that know or interacted with Mr Packer, that they’re not inadvertently linking other behaviours with their work.”

Bryant said coverage of AFL footballer Buddy Franklin taking time off for his mental health had been really good, and was helpful in demonstrating that it was normal to seek help.

Mindframe will monitor coverage over the next few days, and Bryant said any examples of stigmatisation should be reported to Stigma Watch.


For men seeking help or someone to talk to about mental health, Mensline is available 24 hours a day on 1300 78 99 78 and online. For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14, and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636. Headspace and ReachOut have useful mental health resources for young people.

NOTE: This story has been updated to correct a reference to Aaron Patrick’s book.