Mental Health in the Media
Trigger warning: Reference to suicide, eating disorders and self-harm.
“Fliss Baker Has Bipolar Diagnosis, Currently Experiencing Depression”
“Bipolar Sufferer on Another Downer”
I know which headline I’d like to be associated with. Isn’t the impact of language and use of words amazing? I feel honest, empowered and ‘normalized’ in the first statement, whereas the second immediately removes my identity, turns me into a victim and weakens me as a person.
The question is, which one sells? We are drawn to sensationalism and the media feeds what we crave. But negative media reporting in mental health has a detrimental impact on lives and this is something we need to change.
Changing attitudes towards mental health is an uphill struggle. Not only are we raising awareness and educating but we are attempting to change the use of common, stigmatizing language. The words ‘mad’ and ‘looney’ have long been associated with traditional mental institutions, which scream strait jackets and sedation. ‘Psycho’ and ‘schizo,' shortened words for the acceptable diagnoses ‘psychosis’ and ‘schizophrenia,' symbolize danger and instil fear. We are referred to as ‘sufferers’ and ‘the mentally ill’ but throughout our challenging lives we can in fact manage well and we do recover.
We are currently on a mission to equalize mental health on a par with any other medical problem. My bipolar diagnosis is incurable and unpredictable and I regularly see health professionals, however, does this define me? Does this stop me from being the charismatic, kind and quirky girl I was pre-diagnosis and still am now? The world would be appalled to read slurs about diabetes or cancer in the media, so why should mental health conditions be any different?
Yet mental health is often related to crime and violence, particularly in newspapers. In October 2013 UK newspaper The Sun printed the headline ‘1,200 Killed by Mental Health Patients,' which caused uproar. Statistics show mental health patients are ten times more likely to be victims of crime, not perpetrators, and the lack of consideration of other factors make for inaccurate reporting.
As much as I disagree with some reporting of mental health in the media I’m not sure yelling and blaming is the best resolution. I was once ignorant to the hidden world of mental health, using stigmatizing language and passing judgement. I even ridiculed a colleague once who was off work with depression because I had been lumped with her workload.
I wasn’t a bad person. I lacked empathy because quite simply, I didn’t understand. It is not just the media who need to listen and learn, but it is you and I also. I once wrote to a magazine desperate to raise awareness, but my writing was graphic and a potential trigger to others. Thankfully the journalist was sensitive and didn’t expose my vulnerability. We all feed each other and there must be a mutual acceptance of what is fair treatment and responsible.