Monday, 8 October 2007


The media have a major role in colouring our world. Are our streets safe, are libraries being valued, do we have accessible parks and outdoor recreational areas? I can answer such questions easily myself, yet my answers will shift by what the media says. I experience streets all the time, I read voraciously, I'm outdoors every week. Yet the feel for these issues is changed by the sustained voice of the media.

Any media has to have a voice or it ceases to exist. As such, material that is subjective comment rather than reported news is thrust at us endlessly through every medium possible.

This constant barrage of "news" gives texture to our experiences and does shift how we see our world, beyond our experiential learning.

How safe we feel is largely beyond our control (since principally it's other people who would make it unsafe). Because it's beyond just us we do rely on media stories to normalise how safe/unsafe our world currently is.

Mental illness is seldom seen in a positive light.

Much of our society will experience mental illness (about 1 in 4 of us in our lifetime will, depending which study you believe). 1 in 4. So it's common. Very very common. So common as to be unremarkable and normal and acceptable. Why isn't it accepted?

Media portray elements of major mental illness such as hearing voices as serious and risky. We know it usually isn't. Marius Romme's famous TV broadcast in the Netherlands in 1985 on prime time TV turned the tables momentarily, when some 400 people 'phoned in saying they heard voices but many (about 38%) functioned productively in the community. Many people with hallucinations have no contact with and are unknown to mental health services.

So why is mental illness seen so badly, with such stigma?

I'd go with this quote :

"The function of the press in society is to inform, but its role in society is to make money."
- A J Liebling


Maple Leaf Medic said...

I was once told that it's becauase it's hard to empathise with what you haven't experienced. It's easier to understand what it must feel like to break a leg, because we've all experienced physical pain. But it's hard to relate to 'hearing voices' when you've never heard them yourself (which is why people find depression far easier to understand than schizophrenia).

But that still doesn't excuse it.

London Medicgirl said...

I think the lack of being able to see anything is a big factor.

To the rest of the world a person looks fine, so them being unable to get out of bed or function seems like a choice. The more "invisible" biological illnesses seem to get this more as well I always think.


Spirit of 1976 said...

I think it's because there's still the association between people being mentally ill and being "dangerous".

When I was doing my mental health nursing degree I had to spend my first year on a common foundation programme alongside those training to be general and child nurses. They had to do a two week placement in psychiatry to see how other other lives (while I went off to do a couple of weeks on a medical ward for some "proper" nursing). The thing that struck me was that many of the general and child nursing students were DREADING their two weeks in psychiatry. I mean, literally afraid. They honestly believed that they would get a pickaxe through their head as soon as they walked onto the ward.

And these were people who were training to be health professionals. Fortunately a lot of them came back from their two weeks with a more realistic view of the world of mental health.

Jan said...

maple leaf medic has a point in the generally held belief on lack of ability to empathise, but this is based on an assumption that mental health problems are entirely "other" to so-called normal human experience. This is why I love (and teach) a continuum model of mental health. I challenge received wisdom here - I assert that every symptom in the book is an extension or an exaggeration of normal human experience, witness The Shrink' other comment on his hallucinations while feverish. I've said all this before, I can't over-stress it - if you accept mental health as a contunuum then every single person on the planet has the capacity to empathise with a sufferer to some degree.

I think that another slant on the vilification of mental health problems is that, like horrific crimes such as murder or child abuse, we all know deep down that we actually have the capacity to go down these roads ourselves, even though they're contrary to our system of values. It takes some courage to take a mirror to ourselves and consider these issues, but self-honesty is pivotal in things such as practitioners' reflective practice, and in the process of change we patients have to experience in order to recover from mental health problems successfully. In my view that makes self-honesty fundamental to mental health care. But as has been noted, if it's lacking in wider society why should I be so deluded as to expect it in any microcosm?

ps one of my favourite psychiatrists once described me as a "Utopian". This comment has given me more insight into myself than all the diagnoses that have been thrown at me over the years put together. So no aplogies for my idealistic rant. She also called me a"smart-arse". Can't think why.

The Shrink said...

Jan, much wisdom :-)

I check your profile episodically and still await a link to a blog ;-)

Jan said...

I seem to spend too much time reading other's blogs and posting comments to maintain my own. I guess this is common.

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