Why Do Businesses Get Mental Health Wrong?

Yesterday, the Sun caused outrage over its headline. It read, quite simply, '1200 Killed By Mental Patients'. This might seem like they used an indisputable statistic that is hard to refute. However, it underlies a deep trend of businesses and the media getting the mental health issue wrong. It is the most underrated stigma in our society, hardly talked about and yet it touches many lives. You or somebody you know probably has depression, an eating disorder, or some other form of mental illness. Seeing this headline pushes them further into the deep distress of their medical condition. It reinforces the belief that society does not understand or accept what they are going through.

This headline and the article that accompanies it highlights many of the stereotypes about mental health. It is deliberately sensationalist, going to the heart of what makes tabloids tick. A newspaper like the Sun or the Daily Mail can exploit either a minority or an invisible group like the mentally ill to sell copy to the rest of its readers. By constructing the mentally ill as this category of 'Other', we cannot relate to them.

The case of Phillip Simelane on which the article is based is a good example. He randomly stabbed 16 year old Christina Edkins on a bus in Birmingham. However, he has been criminalised in the media, rather than being treated as the serious medical patient that would provoke such a terrible act. By labelling all sufferers of mental illness with such a dramatic brush, the Sun dehumanises them. They are no longer the people we know and love suffering from a diverse set of mental illnesses. Instead, they become potential or actual criminals, or welfare state claimants to be demonised.

The very nature of mental illness, in all of its shades of severity, is an introverted experience. Withdrawal is a common coping mechanism and a culture of repression and fear of its sufferers is extremely damaging. Those that suffer visible or physical illness are given belief by those that love them, support and proper medical attention. By contrast, I know people that have found that their mental health problems have been met with disbelief and rejection by the people that were best placed to offer support. Mental health is such a taboo and stigma that it frequently goes medically unreported and undiagnosed.

This exclusive in The Sun is part of a backdrop of business and media getting mental health wrong. These are very visible organisations that shape the discourse in society, reaching into the minds of millions of people. Along with the people that children interact with, they are shaping their development and how they see people like the mentally ill. It reflects our society at large where frequently only sufferers, their allies and people who are especially well-informed, can challenge the stigma. Businesses are shaped by the people they employ and the consumers they exist to serve. This is why they often fall foul of stereotypes and other more serious traps of the mental health stigma. We must challenge the attitudes and understanding of those people.

For example, ASDA and Tesco have recently withdrawn and apologised for Halloween fancy dress costumes that depicted mental patients. The grotesquely exaggerated style of the costumes, complete with meat cleavers and blood stained clothes fits this association between mental health and violence. The pressure and outrage of the public has pushed this product off the market. However, The Sun still defend their article unashamedly. We have to keep exposing the serious truth of mental illness. The stigma must be broken before companies realise that they must retract the mistakes they make and ultimately, sense these mistakes before they make them.
Why Do Businesses Get Mental Health Wrong? Why Do Businesses Get Mental Health Wrong? Reviewed by Ciaran McCormick on 16:09 Rating: 5

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