There’s an article from yesterday’s Daily Mail that’s been causing quite a bit of discussion on Twitter, particularly from Mark Brown (editor of One in Four magazine, which I can’t recommend highly enough), Dawn Willis and Ali Quant.
Before I link to the article, I should warn people that they’ve stuck a VERY triggery self-harm photo slap bang in the middle of it. If you’re okay to handle that, the article is here.
This may have been simply due to low expectations, due to it being not only in the Daily Mail but written by Harry Phibbs, but I was actually expecting this to be a lot worse. There’s a germ of a good article in here, trying to make a decent point about the need for a balance between inpatient and community provision of mental health services. There’s other worthwhile points about how voluntary sectory agencies can do a lot to help people with mental health problems to improve their quality of life. The trouble is, even when Phibbs is making a valid observation, his language and tone is so utterly hackneyed, antiquated and downright condescending that it ruins the points he’s making. I’m referring to language such as this:
One of the big costs of mental illness is welfare benefits. But because someone is mad need not mean they are incapable of working.
Oh, and right at the end, there’s this:
A new settlement is needed where those with mental illness who can cope with being part of society are accepted as being able to make a contribution. But those who can’t cope should be excluded for their sake and ours.
“Excluded”? So, if somebody…Oh, let’s take a faily commonplace example…Say, if you’re detained under the Mental Health Act, are you “excluded” from society? But what if you pop down to the shops and for lunch in a cafe under Section 17 leave? Are you “included” until you get back? What about somebody who’s admitted to a crisis house for a few days so they can get their head back together somewhere safely? Are they half-included while there?
It’s just such an obsolete, “we are society, and over a wall is the asylum which is not society” view of mental health services and the people who use them.
Incidentally, the triggery self-harm photo wasn’t the only illustration in the article that raised my eyebrows. As so often with newspaper articles on mental illness, they pad it with cliched images of what somebody with a mental health problem is supposed to look like. Back when I was editing the now-defunct Mental Nurse website, we used to run caption competitions on these kinds of images for a laugh.
Images like this:
Somebody pointed out to me that this one actually bears a resemblance to a certain movie poster.
Seriously though, Daily Mail, is it too much to ask you to talk about mental illness without trotting out hackneyed stereotypes and outdated assumptions? Well, okay, in your case it probably is.