“в Правде нет известий, в Известиях нет правды”

“In the Truth there is no news, in the News there is no truth” Early 20th Century Russian saying.

We all know if it bleeds it leads and that hyperbole sells. We all know sensationalism gets the punters in. And, yes, we know it’s orthogonal to the facts on occasion. The Sun has provided us with one such occasion recently. In this particular piece of news, there really is not just little to no truth, but a very great deal of harm.

I could make this post about the poor understanding and use of statistics in the Sun piece, it’s been done already. I could make this post about the phenomena, even misrepresented as they are by the Sun, described being largely due to chronic underfunding of mental health care, and generational, multi government, underinvestment in joined up services for people with mental health issues, but even the woeful article in the Sun acknowledges that undeniable fact. Why in the name of balance they even include a comment from Mind. [/Sarcasm]

I could make this post about the original report (and others), and if someone annoys me enough, I probably will. I could make this post about the effects of the deliberate appeal to common prejudice of the Sun piece and the effects of that. Actually, yes, let me do that!

But first a word from our sponsor: Reality.

Far from the Sun’s sensationalist and prejudicially derived headline claim that the normal, good, honest, hard working, citizens of Great Britain live in fear of horrible, marauding nutters, frothing at the mouth, waiting to obediently comply with the evil voices in their head that tell them to rape-murder-kill pretty white young women lies reality.* A reality in which crime victims with mental illness are ignored, more at risk than the general population. (Here’s the report and a few more links around it. All these links reference this report and articles based on it) A reality only briefly acknowledged by the Sun as if such an acknowledgement balances or excuses their deliberate and harmful sensationalism.

People with mental illnesses, as a cohort, are vastly more likely to harm themselves (see original report) than anyone else. But of course this headline, this meme, this fact, is rarely reported or talked about by comparison. Instead we have major high street supermarket chains and global online businesses helping to perpetuate the “psycho killer mental patient” trope with fun costumes. We also get the unrepentant Thorpe Park’s help in perpetuating this trope, to say nothing of Hollywood’s fascination with terrifying inmates of asylums. “Oh but they are horrific and scary! It’s just a bit of fun” comes the cry. So is the experience of slavery and rape horrific and scary, and we can trivialise exploitation of them as just a bit of fun too. Let’s have fun park attractions based on those shall we? Why are those horrific and scary things not suitable for trivialisation? Tradition? Popularity? Oh we know those things are wrong now? J‘ai toujours fait une prière à Dieu, qui est fort courte. La voici: Mon Dieu, rendez nos ennemis bien ridicules! Dieu m’a exaucé. (Voltaire)

Here are just two examples of the disdain people with mental illness are treated. Tiny and insignificant examples. Granted both of those link to examples of outrage at such disdain, the point is that the outrage is far smaller than the support for, or even the indifference to, this disdain and discrimination. More Miley fans will doubtlessly support her unpleasantness than will condemn it. More people indifferent to Ms Cyrus will equally undoubtedly dismiss or minimise it. Sadly, this lack of analysis and empathy actually kills. Not metaphorically kills. Not increases the chances of death. Kills. Social stigma is not just a phenomenon that exists outside the head of someone with a mental illness. It exists inside. We grow up in the same society as people without mental illnesses. We breathe the same air, perhaps to the consternation of some, read Graham Thornicroft’s excellently researched Shunned for examples. (WARNING: Link goes to a commonly used tax dodging multinational)

The social influences that impinge upon THEM impinge upon US (not that, given ~1 in 4 people will suffer from some mental illness at some point in their life, there really is a them, just an us, but hey, let’s use the implied values of the Sun and sundry bigots being criticised). One of the hardest things to accept, when I finally started to get treatment and actually deal with my illness, was that I was one of them. One of the terrible people. One of the bad people. The broken people. The failures. The losers. The mad. The bad. Of course I was none of those things, well, I was and am mad, technically I suppose, but none of the bad things. All of that was internalised stigma. Such internalised self hate, added to an already significant burden, doesn’t vaporise easily. It takes a supreme effort, a huge amount of work and self discipline, to combat. Remember this is part of many mental illnesses: the irrational, pathological, abnormal focus on self destructive and self critical thoughts. The prejudice about people with mental illnesses persists in society, you don’t know you have it until it matters. If it never matters to you, you can quite comfortably live your life with it, as the existence of aged mental health bigots and denialists proliferating in our media during their dotage demonstrates.  We are incrementally improving as a society in our open distaste for problematic bigotry. But such prejudice, such stigma around mental health, kills. It adds to the existing illness, it rubs already raw wounds, it tips people carefully walking along a greasy tightrope off the sides. It is not merely counterfactual, it is harmful.

And its repetition is unnecessary. The press don’t need to rely on it.

Want a scandal? Expose and emphasise the chronic underinvestment in mental health services that the Sun article treats as “balance” in order to shore up it’s appeal to bigotry. Show what that underinvestment does to patients, carers and wider society. This article fails to do that despite its protestations to the contrary. The sensationalist manner that deliberately makes use of misinterpreted stats to other people already terribly marginalised in society actively harms. It fails to do the basic function of the press. Hold power to scrutiny and account. There’s a scandal that genuinely deserves the title.

* Oh yes, people, never think that choice of case for the front page of the Sun went unnoticed. Innocent little white girl killed by mad, bad, foreign-sounding-name black man. Isn’t that just the best choice of front page splash? Totally innocent of course, just like the misuse of statistics and sensationalism. Harmless. Completely not intended or useful in any way to any agenda. {Cough} {Splutter}.

3 Responses to “в Правде нет известий, в Известиях нет правды”

  1. Pingback:Halloween: What’s wrong with evoking the “scary mental patient” stereotype? | Sectioned

  2. Avatar Sousan50
    Sousan50 says:

    “But such prejudice, such stigma around mental health, kills. It adds to the existing illness, it rubs already raw wounds, it tips people carefully walking along a greasy tightrope off the sides. It is not merely counterfactual, it is harmful.

    Want a scandal? Expose and emphasise the chronic underinvestment in mental health service”

    Thank you. I despaired at that crappy headline. I worked at exposing this stuff once. Actually got paid for it. Relevent to your post is this story I think, its not a story about me but about the stigmatisation and sheer disinterest of the policy makers. Criminal disinterest in my opinion but it had a nice result

    once upon a bloody long time ago i did a study which looked at adolescent parasuicide in the district of England that had 2.5 the national average of completed suicide in under 25s and 4x the average for attempted suicide. Every one said, Oh these kids are a pain” – Putting money into this district is like throwing it into a black hole…… oh the humor. yes it was inner city. The fucktards had not even paid for a child psychiatrist since the last one left two years before I started looking. They knew why they had this level

    I read 72 casenotes in 48 hours. i still wake crying. All through, from admission to discharge the professionals cried”we cant help them its a scandel! ” “wont someone else think of the children ” I sat in meetings where the psychologists said “send them to another unit” Every part of their care went against guidelines – it wasn’t under funded – it wasnt fucking funded in the first place. The bit about me that i’m dead proud of? -I wouldn’t shut up. People said to my boss I should be moved, it was upsetting me HeH!! I would not shut up.

    long story short – it took a year. The team came slowly but it came. When they had the story of the failure it was the individuals who said “that’s enough,” they came together. The A&E senior reg who liaised with the pediatricians. The paediatric nurse who specialised in paracetamol cases. (we needed to keep them from the adult unit you see) The Child Psychiatrist from another district who came in and looked at these kids on her own time. The Social Worker who asked for her case load to be comprised solely of these kids. (Too many but at least we had a name. ) Liaison – between people who knew what the standards should be and raised their game to say “we’ll try to reach them ” Still there was no money not for another year further but the rates began to fall.

    I will never match the excitement of watching them start to pull this together. They were the best people I have ever met.

    Its not the press, Louis, its the policy makers, You have to catch that they know about this shit. You have to make them blush. The press are absolutely their animal and they use them to feed the imagination of the reader in the way they want. Look out for mental health service privatisation coming soon on the back of this type of shit. But along with that has to be the publication of guidelines and standards that the public HAVE to be told about. Policy makers cant hide guidelines on shelves anymore.. Louis please never, ever shut up.

  3. Avatar Louis Redux
    Louis Redux says:

    “Louis please never, ever shut up.”

    Precisely the opposite advice practically everyone else has ever given me! 😉

    “Its not the press, Louis, its the policy makers…”

    It’s both. Honest! You are of course, right though. The {naughty persons} dismantling the NHS and chronically underinvesting in MH care are the beasts responsible.