An Open Letter To The Sun Regarding Coverage Of Mental Health Issues

Yesterday brought a close to Mental Illness Awareness Week, and on Thursday thousands of people took part in World Mental Health Day. With this in mind, I wanted to address your own coverage of mental health issues over the course of the past five days.
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Yesterday brought a close to Mental Illness Awareness Week, and on Thursday thousands of people took part in World Mental Health Day. With this in mind, I wanted to address your own coverage of mental health issues over the course of the past five days.

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Dear The Sun,

I have decided to take some time out of my busy day murdering people, to write an open letter to you.

On Monday, your front page headline was: 1,200 KILLED A YEAR BY MENTAL PATIENTS

Which is just a crazy headline! Amirite, guys?

Now, I don’t know exactly who was responsible for that headline, but whoever it was, I hope that when you get home in the evening – probably to a house fitted with a panic room and a moat to keep mental people away – and go to bed after a long, hard day of contributing to a stigma which plays a part in 1 million annual suicides (6,045 in the UK) – you don't sleep a wink.

Cos, for real, your story is about as irresponsible as pushing a pram into a road and tipping a baby out in front of a bus.

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.

You are a paper that is read by 2.5 million people – all of them and thousands more will have you seen your front page. It is estimated that at least 1 in 4 people will suffer mental health problems, so at the very least you've offended a quarter of the population, - *pause for slow hand clap* - but hopefully you've offended far more than that, because most people are not idiots.

And given the statistics, (real ones, not like your skewed ones) you've probably offended members of your own family and friends too.

To be fair, you have previously treated the issue of mental ill health with a caring sensitivity bordering on the pathological. There was the time in 1984, when you called Tony Benn “insane” and fabricated an entire piece about him being “stark raving mad”, with made up quotes from a psychiatrist.

Then of course there was the infamous 2003 headline ‘BONKERS BRUNO LOCKED UP’, about Frank Bruno, which you then changed to ‘SAD BRUNO IN MENTAL HOME’ after public outcry.

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.

I appreciate that on the Tuesday you scrambled to diffuse the situation with a piece by your crime correspondent, who wrote poignantly about the tragic incident of his sister’s murder twenty years ago by a woman suffering from schizophrenia.

There is no doubt that her death was a result of system failure, but the overall result of the piece once again paints a wholly unrepresentative picture of the majority of mental health patients as violent killers.

So in that sense, again, bravo on your headline:

“My sister was killed by mentally ill woman after system’s ‘gamble’ failed“.

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I’m just going to break this down for you: every time you put MENTAL and KILLED in a headline, you are perpetuating a stigma. So when you try to redeem yourself for a headline that included the words MENTAL and KILLED with a headline that included MENTALLY ILL and KILLED, you really didn’t make that much headway.

Then, the following day, you ran another story, headlined: “My schizophrenic son says he’ll kill”.

Seriously. Three stigmatising stories in one week? If you are trying to win the Nurse Ratched Award for Callous Insensitivity in Mental Health, you can stop now. I think it’s in the bag.

And all of this during a week which was dedicated to raising awareness about mental health and combating insidious stigma, with thousands of people sharing their stories across social media to that effect.

So please, if you’re going to cover a story about mental illness (please God, don’t ever again), maybe you should invest in an abacus to sort out your figures, and try not to turn on its head a study finding that homicides by psychiatric patients are going down.

You have more blood on your hands than any "mental patient" ever will. You are right now the Lady Macbeth of journalism. Christ, you even made the Mail look like it'd had a good week.

Thankfully, times are changing. People are starting to smell bullshit when they read bullshit. The stench rises up from the paper like ink fumes. To put it in your words, people know THE TRUTH.

Thank fuck the world does not revolve around The Sun.

Yours,

Hannah (@ladyhaja)