Sometimes in life you look back and wish you had stuck to your guns and withstood the utter humiliation you felt at the time.
I had one of those moments last night when reading The Sun’s despicable and misleading headline about mental health. It reminded me of an encounter I had ten years ago almost to the day. This was in the wake of The Sun’s climb-down over a not dissimilar front page story about Frank Bruno being admitted to psychiatric hospital. By the way, if you want to read a well-researched news report about today’s story I would recommend Channel 4 here.
So returning to a decade ago….
‘It’s a seminal moment in the changing attitudes of the press to mental health’, said the mental health charity CEO at this particular meeting. Or something like that. ‘Not it’s not’ I said. I then tried to argue that it would take more than an apology to mark a shift in attitudes. I was quickly put in my place which sort of put an end to my part in the meeting. I used to worry about these sorts of personally crushing moments endlessly. Now I just try to put more of my life in print…..
Not that I am trying to either claim ‘I told you so’ or that another outcome would have made any difference. No, far from it. All my tale proves is that leopards can change their spots faster than the media change their practices. To put it into tabloid language: ‘The Sun has got form.’
What with this and the recent outcry about offensive Halloween costumes on sale in various stores; we can be forgiven for feeling defeatist about the lack of progress we have made in fighting mental health stigma.
On the other hand perhaps we should feel encouraged by the universal condemnation of The Sun today; that this has come from well-known public figures – from politicians to sports personalities and charity CEOs. Also by the fact that we have a new and powerful tool at our disposal with Twitter, by which we can spread the word and galvanise a response so much faster than before. I noticed that some of the critical media coverage has got an astounding number of ‘shares’ – 1000 in the case of The Independent for instance. These signals do not go unnoticed.
I am sure better people than I are mulling over all sorts of possible responses to The Sun: a clarion cry for a public apology by the editor (at the minimum!); a boycott of the paper on World Mental Health Day; writing to The Sun’s editor; urging advertisers such as Tesco, TalkTalk, Sky and many others in today’s paper to give over their advertising space over to mental health charities; the Prime Minister refusing access to lobby briefings by the paper until it changes its editorial policy and speaking out publicly against the article on Thursday.
It will be interesting to see what the morning brings if anything.
My own personal view is that there is one effective response within our grasp – each and every one of us – which can effect permanent change in the long run. That is, to turn our own individual outrage into positive action. Whether by supporting the ‘Time to Change’ campaign or by support World Mental Health Day on October 10th this year which focuses on mental health and older adults. You can find out how at the Mental Health Foundation website here.
Fact is, making it personal like this is the only way we are truly going to end mental health stigma.