Stigma kills

So, I was going to write a blog about The Sun and their rather astonishing recent headline – 1,200 KILLED A YEAR BY MENTAL PATIENTS – but then I went and read an article written by Hannah Jane Parkinson from Sabotage Times and it stopped me in my tracks. Firstly, it’s more scathing, sarcastic and to the point than any blog of mine could ever be (self-deprecation is so in), and secondly, whilst I’m not simply going to copy and paste its entire content (‘cos that would be as lazy as it is naughty), it allows me to pad my inferior content with that of Hannah’s. I’m waffling already.


Oh, and the fact that The Sun also claims that Tam is a cannibal seems to be perfectly acceptable too. Odd. Anyway, here’s Hannah at her best…

I especially LOVE the fact that, less than two weeks after there was an uproar (and hugely successful responsive Twitter campaign), over offensive Halloween costumes on sale at Asda and Tesco stigmatising people with mental health issues, you decided to lead with a story… stigmatising people with mental health issues.

Smooth move on your smart part.

Now, I know what you are going to say. In your defence, your article, ostensibly, was about the failings of the mental health system; it was not about stigmatising those with mental health issues.

Because I agree, slapping 1,200 KILLED A YEAR BY MENTAL PATIENTS on your front page isn’t at all stigmatising.

And I don’t think referring to people with mental health difficulties as MENTAL PATIENTS is stigmatising either. ‘Psychiatric’ is a long word that probably would have taken up half of your word count. Whaddya gonna do?

I won’t spend too long here breaking down (ha!) how you skewed the figures – which actually show that 95% of murders are committed by non-’mental’ people, or how 462 of these murders weren’t committed by psychiatric patients at all – because people have already spent a quick five minute fact check doing that here and here.

Good work Hannah.
And there’s more…

See, most people recognise that suffering from mental ill health can be a terrifying, tragic, confusing and despairing ordeal and mostly a combination of all of the above.

I know this because I have bipolar disorder, and far from it being a jazz-hands, cool, creative disorder as often portrayed in the media, it’s actually just a royal pain in the arse. (With apologies to the monarchy).

But after my loboto – sorry, I mean my carefully structured routine of medication, great doctors, a horrific 8 year period of trial and error, a wonderful support network of friends – I have recovered. Recovered enough to lead a normal life now, so much so that from the outside you’d barely even know I had been a mental patient.

I’ve even started to have the confidence to wear jackets with arms that don’t tie in the middle, which before was a look I never thought I could pull off.

Guys, if you want to have a headline about mental health on your front page, then fucking great. That is brilliant.

Do write about how inpatient beds have been slashed by up to 12%(12). How 50% of patients admitted to A&E after suicide attempts don’t get to see psychiatrists (13). The utter confusion between primary and secondary mental health services. The appalling way that people with mental health problems are treated by ATOS. The fact that anorexia has a 20% mortality rate(14). The epidemic of suicides amongst young men(15). The pitiful way NHS mental health workers are supported. The lack of funding. The way our Prime Minister casually throws around insults like “nuts” and “fruitcake”, which is pretty rich coming from a guy who looks a lot like a boiled egg.

Write about all this stuff without some vile sensationalist dogma portraying a quarter of the population as potential killers.

Please read her full article, here

My tuppenth worth…

It’s all about education.

When I was a young’un it was perfectly fine and respectable for the ‘general public’ to laugh at racist jokes and to conform to a sexist society. Whilst both of those ‘ists’ still quite clearly exist, it is to a lesser extent; society is evolving. Likewise when I was in shorts there were similar lazy, negative, horribly stigmatising terms used for those affected by mental health. No need for examples. It was childish, schoolboy humour – you’re ‘different’ so we’ll pick on you – except it wasn’t, and still isn’t funny at all. It harms the recipient of the ridicule.

Much as sexism and racism are no longer tolerated, similar advancements are happening around the awareness and understanding of mental health issues – despite The Sun. Krishnamurti’s quote “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” sums it up perfectly, it is societal pressures which lead to much of our mental ill health. Life can be fucking hard. Surely it is down to us as caring and evolving human beings to treat each other with kindness and respect, to promote compassion and understanding rather than intolerance and a hatred of those who are different or choose not to conform?

In Scotland it was against the law until 1980 for same-sex sexual activity to take place. That sounds ridiculous, but things change, and through education and understanding most of our intolerances, many born out of biblical doctrines, are being challenged. But with mental health there are no faith-based guidelines, there is a simple lack of education from an early age mixed with a long-term ignorance. Thankfully the ‘general public’ are becoming less ignorant, mental health is now being discussed more openly, and people are learning and becoming more aware. But we have a very long way to go, not helped by sensationalist stigma-reinforcing headlines such as this.

Indeed it is headlines such as these that will affect lives negatively, discouraging people with mental illnesses to seek help. Stigmatisation kills. There may come a day where people will feel as comfortable talking about their mental health as they do their favourite music. I wish. Until that time let’s work on being kind and compassionate human beings who, through education, applaud and encourage those who are ‘different’, understand and support those who struggle with life, and see The Sun for what it is – a celebrity-obsessed magazine filled with gossip, scandal and lies.


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