We're living in the future, Back To Future II is set only two years from now, I haven't seen any hoverboards or self drying clothes but I have noticed that we are more intelligent than ever and have access to so much more information, so why do broadsheets and tabloids continue to give the dumb and dated impression that mental health is associated with violent crime?
"Schitzo Stabs Pensioner"
"Looney Takes Teacher Hostage"
"Psycho Steals Tights"
This not only concerns me but worries me slightly, because, if I happened to be in the same place and time that a crime took place, it would be me that would more likely be accused than someone without a diagnosis. It gives a whole new edge to the "whodunnit" game Cluedo; "Miss Scarlet, found dead in the drawing room, by a blow to the head with a candlestick, most likely by a manic depressive who forgot his morning medication".
I recently worked a media event organised by Time To Change and hosted by Alistair Campbell. Panel guests were Mary O'Hara, writer for the Guardian and working on a research project about mental health in the media, broadcaster Fiona Phillips, actress and presenter Denise Welch and journalist and moderator for the Daily Mail and close friend of mine Erica Camus. Guests that made up the audience were predominantly press; journalists, headline writers and editors, and media undergraduates namely Media Mind UK who I have been working with independently of this event. Our aim was to talk to the press about how the media portray people, like myself, with a severe mental health illness, and how completely different the reality is. There is no close connection between mental health and crime, in fact, statistics show that we are actually more likely to be the victim of the crime. Also, facts and dates very often don't go hand in hand. Denise, who has achieved a whole year of sobriety, was recently pictured in the press using a pic portraying that she'd fallen off the wagon which was in fact five years old. And as a journalist myself, I can say that we don't write our own headlines, and it is often these headlines that do the damage. Fiona described her experience of having headlines attached to her story as written without them actually reading the story first, often contradicting itself. But unfortunately, the general public who read the papers like to read about two types of people; survivors - those who have been through hell and come out of the other end, and circus acts - those who can be publicly humiliated and make the public feel better about themselves. Headlines that imply that a celebrity is "just doing OK' attracts no attention, in contrast to those that have battled cancer or brought shame and bad exposure to themselves. Short sharp words such as "Divorce.. Shame.. Cheat.. Nutter.. Addict.. Criminal.. Loon" are what readers have been acustomed to catch out of the corner of their eye.
Mental health seems to be the only disability that is being targeted, you would never see headlines such as..
"Diabetic, run's down small child"
"Hard of hearing leader of sex cult charged"
"Polycystic woman tortures husband to One Direction"
It sounds more Chris Morris than tabloids.
Recent documentaries on television, namely BBC Panorama, have disclosed attitudes of council workers, one in particular calling those receiving sick or disabled benefits "lying thieving bastards" and these are the people who are employed to help those suffering from severe and enduring mental health. Add media coverage, namely headlines, public stigma and in many cases rejection from friends, family and colleagues, is it any wonder that more often than imaginable people suffering mental health commit suicide?
Here are some shocking key findings from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence)
Almost 46% of all press coverage was about crime, harm to others and self harm - with 54% of tabloid coverage devoted to these issues and almost 43% in the broadsheets.
Both broadsheets and tabloids made a clear link between mental ill health,criminality and violence - and stories making this link were generally given greater prominence than more positive pieces
45% of Sunday tabloid articles about mental health contained stigmatizing words like 'nutter' and 'loony'
Pieces giving advice and guidance about mental health issues accounted for less than 8% of all coverage
Eighty per cent of all mental health coverage was found in the broadsheets
Sunday broadsheets covered mental health issues less positively than their daily counterparts
Stories about politics, funding and se~ices relating to mental health accounted for one fifth of all coverage
More than a fifth of the coverage promoted the messages that mental health problems are treatable and that people with mental distress lead worthwhile lives
Articles covering self harm and/or suicide were generally more balanced than those reporting on harm to others
So, we are publicly portrayed as scroungers and criminals, and basically the general public should cross the road should we get within a twenty foot radius. And there was me thinking that thanks to Catherine Zeta Jones, bipolar disorder was, as I once read, "the Givenchy of mental health". Perhaps I'll go and see my GP and see if I can get it swapped for high cholesterol or something that isn't going to scare the general public.