To provide a brief background to the story, I’ll quickly summarise the article on Buzzfeed. The Sun, a British newspaper, ran a story in which it claimed that 1,200 people in the UK have been killed by “high-risk patients” who were “allowed to kill” by “failings in Britain’s mental health system” over the past 10 years. However, as pointed out by the author of the Buzzfeed article, the study in question includes both people who were “patients” (defined elsewhere in the report as those that had “been in contact with mental health services in the 12 months prior to the offence”), and those who simply “showed an abnormal mental state at the time of the homicide”. In addition to this, the study does not delve deeper into the statistics and illustrates that almost 50% of those who committed the murders that made up The Sun’s 1,200 figure were not even “mental patients”. The lack of further data illustrates that the illness cannot be shown to have caused the homicide, and for the most of that group, the mental health system could have done nothing to prevent the death.
So why then do the media sensationalise mental illness? Of course it’s only a select group of newspapers that have the lower reading age that do this, however these newspapers DO sell. They DO find their way into homes across the UK and influence people’s opinions about the issue. It was only a few weeks ago that Asda and Tesco were in the news for selling “mental patient” Halloween costumes, complete with a bloodied meat clever and white straight jacket.
In response to all of these incidents, a petition has been drafted up to force The Sun newspaper to correct the sensationalism in their mental illness story and donate the profits to charity. One person who commented on the petition said: “I suffer from depression and PTSD, and have been threatened with physical violence because of my conditions before. Mental health patients are three times more likely to be the victims of crime, and five times more likely to be the victims of physical assault. Headlines like this only serve to play into stereotypes and stigmatise people, while ignoring the very real issues those same people face.”
It’s essential that for any positive progress to happen, the media needs to take a mature and honest approach to news reporting. So please do your little bit and sign the petition!