Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Mail's subtle depiction of depression

On Friday, the PCC tweeted a link to an article on the Guardian website which reinforced the:

importance of responsible reporting of mental health issues.

Mary O'Hara wrote:

Ask people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness – especially a serious one like Schizophrenia – what they think about media coverage of the issue and certain words come up time and again. Words like: 'offensive', 'stigmatising', 'sensationalist', 'inaccurate' and 'distorted'...

The natural next question to ask is: why? Why is it that this overwhelming sense of negativity is what people are left with when they read newspapers or watch television programmes where mental illness is featured?


To find an eloquent summing up of why what is written and reported by the media matters we need look no further than the seminal book by Otto Wahl, "Media Madness."

In it Wahl writes: "Media depictions, in their persistent and pervasive inaccurate stereotypes perpetuate the negative attitudes of the public toward people who experience mental disorders and thus help to maintain the stigma, rejection and discrimination that has added to their burden.

"For people with mental illness the images of mental illness that the media currently present have very important, very personal, and very painful consequences."

Last year, Mail columnist Janet Street-Porter was rightly criticised for her article dismissing depression as just a 'trendy new illness'. Such was the backlash that several readers' letters were added to the online version to counter her views.

But it seems the Mail hasn't learnt its lesson and last week ran an article by Angela Patmore, which was little more than an extended plug for her book and which told people with depression that the solution was to 'just get a grip'. The Mail decided to present the article like this:

Will the PCC be reminding the Mail about the 'importance of responsible reporting of mental health issues'?

(Thanks to Angry Mob, who initially tweeted a photo of the above article, and to Kat Arney)


  1. The article's offensive enough, but seriously? Who looked at that picture and though, "Yes! This is the most appropriate picture available."

    Apart from the fact depression is often caused biologically, does the author really think that all the depressed people in the world just haven't bothered to try to get better? Actually, looking at the whole article, I think the sad clown is appropriate - it sums up exactly how patronising the article is going to be.

  2. Ask people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness – especially a serious one like Schizophrenia – what they think about media coverage of the issue and certain words come up time and again. Words like: 'offensive', 'stigmatising', 'sensationalist', 'inaccurate' and 'distorted'...

    Am I wrong here or is the idea of mental illness mean that one can not make a sound judgement?

  3. Thanks for this - crappy coverage of mental health issues drives me mad (so to speak...)

    Articles like this do nothing to distinguish common - although genuinely painful and difficult- responses to life situations such as a breakup, grief, being made redundant etc that people describe as "being a bit depressed", with debilitating and chronic depression. Although both may benefit from medication and the 'talking cure', telling someone with chronic depression to "get a grip" is probably the least helpful thing in the world. In many cases, putting a 'happy face' on and sucking it up is what led to their problems in the first place.

    To draw a parallel, you could tell an anorexic to "just eat more, a bulimic to "just stop puking", or a schizophrenic to "just stop being crazy" - but this is just hollow without addressing why they're unable to do this and offering appropriate help and support.

    And finally, the hapless picture editor and sub responsible for the headline should take a long hard look at what they've done, and consider making a donation to Mind (Mind)

  4. Also, anyone who thinks you can get rid of mental illness by just "getting a grip" should read about this:
    Lori's story
    Just one among the thousands of casualties of mental illness.

  5. I suffer from MDD , and I am currently trying to get a grip , infact I think of little else but getting a grip (CBT). When I have have mild symptoms I can get a grip, when I spiral ( as I am now currently) I have lost my grip and grapple to try to be active and stable.
    I hate having depression and if it's a choice no bastard told me !!.

    I have heard all the best advice given by people who have never been through it , My Brother "everyone get's a bit down" to a friend " Just man up and have a word" I tell myself maybe I should just man up...then realise if it was that simple I would.
    People should not be allowed to spew nonsense especially when they have a certain sizable following of the public whom some hang off their every word.
    All the hard work by high profile sufferer's like Stephen Fry do a lot for the cause and I am glad they have spoken out! as it has made life a little more easier for people suffering from these dibilatating conditions . And in a way JSP has done her bit , by being controversial she opens debate and if just a few people go away and learn a bit more about the subject becuase of the misinformation then at least something good will have come of it.. even if by Proxy.


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