If You Really Want to Help Me, Drop the Ancient Stereotypes

21/10/2013 15:16 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

I woke a few days ago to learn that as a "mental patient", I am dangerous and to be feared by society.

If you believe what The Sun has to say, you'd expect me to be coming at you with a pitchfork, Citalopram in hand, hair dishevelled and unwashed; an out-of-control lunatic.

The reality is somewhat different. From finding myself too scared to get out of bed some mornings, to having to convince myself it is a silly idea to kill myself because my laptop isn't working, to bursting into tears because it's dark, my life as a clinical depressive can be all of joyful, bleak, and desperate. But I am not a danger to society, and I deserve far more empathy than The Sun's front page afforded me.

The article plays into hideous stereotypes that I, along with many other mentally ill people, have to fight on a daily basis. It's not just that we are misunderstood widely within society; it's that this misunderstanding has led to a terrible provision of healthcare for the mentally ill, a feeling that we have failed as human beings, and a paralysing fear of the consequences of anyone (including the professionals who could actually help us) finding out that we may be ill. The stereotypes with which we live are demeaning, alienating, and an inaccurate representation of what it means to be mentally ill.

In addition to misrepresenting the evidence it was claimed to be based upon, I firmly believe that The Sun's headline played into insidious prejudices that stop those of us suffering from mental illnesses going forward and getting help when we are most vulnerable, rendering us isolated and left to deal with incredible torment alone.

There is no such thing as a "mental patient". Even if there were, it's probably worth at least acknowledging the huge spectrum of illnesses that fit into this category; for example depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are not the same, just as lung cancer and pneumonia are distinct illnesses. The sweeping generalisation played into outdated and harmful stereotypes of those who are mentally ill, and moreover labelled us a distinct category which has diverged from the rest of humanity. The headline suggested we are a group which are to be feared; the blood-coloured numbers hardly help this. It's hard to imagine how further isolating sufferers of mental illness could be anything other than destructive.

Whilst I cannot claim to speak for every individual who suffers from a mental illness, my experience has been one of a constant battle against a chronically underfunded system, and I have found myself stuck in a world that woefully misunderstands mental illness. I had to wait 10 months to see a counsellor who actually listened to me; the first one informed me that there was nothing wrong with me, and once I'd worked up the courage to try again, I waited four months to reach the top of the waiting list to see another service. It is worth noting that neither of these services is NHS provided; can you imagine The Sun's outrage if services for cancer patients were so scant?

The writer claims that the story is a cry against poor mental health provision. Even if we take this claim as true, the reality of it is that the stereotypes the headline and article reinforce make it less likely that an individual can be honest about their illness; who wants to make a cup of tea for a friend who is likely to fill it with cyanide the moment their back is turned? Further to this, the opening paragraph claimed that the systematic failing is that "mental patients" have harmed other people; apparently my pain and suffering only matters if it has an impact on the non-defective members of society.

Congratulations to The Sun. Why waste time writing accurately or sensitively about the terrible care those of us with mental illnesses receive? Snappy, sensationalist, profit-seeking headlines should most definitely come before respecting the humanity of the mentally ill.

The Sun's story refers to this report: