On Monday, October 7, 2013, The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper ran the following headline: 1,200 Killed By Mental Patients. Shock 10-year toll exposes care crisis. It took up almost all of the front page.
The headline precipitated a great deal of protest from politicians, advocacy groups, mental health professionals, and others. The general points in most of these protests were that the headline was sensationalistic, misleading, and would serve to increase the stigma associated with “mental illness.”
Other British newspapers, including the Guardian, the Independent, and the New Statesman, ran articles criticizing the Sun’s piece.
The Guardian pointed out that people with a history of “mental” problems are already considerably stigmatized, and cited interesting figures from an NHS survey. The Guardian also challenged the accuracy of the 1200 figure, and stated that 738 was the true total for the decade.
The Independent reported on the various individuals and agencies that protested the headline. The Independent also pointed out that people with mental illness are ten times more likely to be victims of crime than the average person.
The New Statesman attacked the Sun’s headline as misleading, and expressed the opinion that:
“…part of the reason the government is able to impoverish and stigmatise those receiving care in the community with relative ease, is that there has been a relentless campaign against mentally ill benefit claimants, a campaign led by right-wing tabloids like the Sun.”
The New Statesman also states that:
“In Britain and across the global north, one in four people will experience significant mental health problems in their lifetimes.”
Apparently the Sun has responded to these criticisms by claiming that they were not trying to stigmatize the mentally ill, but rather to draw attention to the fact that these people have been let down by inadequate mental health services over the past decade.
So what should we make of all this?
Firstly, I need to say that I have not read the Sun’s article because it’s behind a paywall, but I have seen a copy of the front page in question. It’s embedded in some of the other papers, including The Huffington Post UK, and it is clearly sensationalistic, stigmatizing, and irresponsible. But it probably sold copy, and that, I imagine was the idea.
Secondly, there are no mental illnesses. Mental illness is the name, or label, that psychiatry gives to an ever-increasing range of human problems of thinking, feeling, and/or behaving, in order to promote psychiatric turf and to legitimize the sale of psycho-pharma products. Psychiatrists have taken this notion a step further by actively promoting the unfounded notion that these “mental illnesses” are really brain illnesses, and that the drugs they prescribe are necessary to correct and “treat” these neurological malfunctions.
Thirdly, although psychiatry routinely claims that their relentless process of medicalizing human problems reduces stigma, the opposite is actually the case. The promotion of biogenetic models of human problems actually increases stigma. Angermeyer et al (2011) systematically reviewed 39 population studies that had addressed the stigma question, and concluded that:
“…biogenetic causal beliefs or interventions are negatively associated with expectations of recovery and good prognosis.”
“…there seems to be a danger that biogenetic illness concepts increase rather than decrease public stigma of mental illness.”
So, reprehensible as the Sun’s headline was, it seems to me that its actual stigmatizing impact pales in comparison with that inflicted by bio-psychiatry over the last 50 years.
And in the same context, let’s not lose sight of American psychiatry’s present attempt to capitalize on the mass killings by promoting the notion that the “mentally ill” are inherently dangerous and will likely become more so unless mental health services are expanded. This, despite the growing indications that psychiatric drugs are a significant causative factor in these incidents.
It’s one thing for a yellow press tabloid to engage in scaremongering sensationalism. We expect no better. But for a helping profession to engage in this sort of thing is, in my view, very questionable. Here are a few examples:
- E. Fuller Torrey, MD, on the 60 minutes program Preview: Imminent Danger
- In the Wake of the Navy Yard Shooting: A Way Forward, by Jeffrey Lieberman, MD
- Dr. Jeffrey Swanson, Duke University psychiatrist, quoted in A question of access? Mental health and gun violence
- Dr. Jennifer Hagman, Child Psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, in Sandy Hook shooting highlights deficient access to psychiatry in the U.S., expert says.
Perhaps the truth is that psychiatry is not really a helping profession.