If somebody makes a racist comment on national television then they normally lose their career over it. Discrimination is discrimination regardless of whether that is about colour of a person’s skin or a person’s disability. Discrimination is wrong on every level and yet discrimination around mental health seems to be ignored in the media time and time again.
This can be seen in reality TV programme ‘Big Brother‘ where in the past a contestant was removed from the house for saying “N*gga” however when Helen Wood referred to Brian Belo and Nikki Grahame as “psychos” and then went on to say “Straight jackets are in the storeroom, psycho” Helen was merely given a warning. Considering that Nikki Grahame has had a long battle with a mental health condition the comment was very damaging and had it been about race I am sure a comment of the same severity would have been met with removal from the house.
It is apparent that stigmatising or discriminating public comments about mental health are happening in all parts of the media and are simply brushed over and forgotten as though the implications do not matter. Meghan Trainor said in an interview “I wasn’t strong enough to have an eating disorder…I tried to go anorexic for a good three hours. I ate ice and celery, but that’s not even anorexic. And I quit. I was like, ‘Ma, can you make me a sandwich? Like, immediately,” This statement is damaging in more ways than one. Firstly it reinforces the idea that people with anorexia choose anorexia and also the idea that those with anorexia don’t eat anything. Nobody chooses anorexia just the same as nobody chooses to have asthma or arthritis or cancer. People with anorexia do eat and often sufferers eat more than ice and celery so clearly Meghan Trainor does not know what anorexia is. As for the comments about being strong, what message is that sending out to people? That having an eating disorder is a good thing? That’s dangerous.
Then there are the newspaper headlines that continuously reinforce negative stereotypes. Sufferers of mental health conditions are more likely to be the victim of a crime than they are to commit a crime and yet you would not realise that from the way newspapers front pages look all too often. “Killer pilot suffered from depression” was plastered over the front of The Daily Mirror when in actual fact nobody knew if the incident had anything to do with his depression and most people with depression have not killed anyone just the same as most people without depression have not killed anyone. The Sun‘s front page back in 2003 was plastered with “Bonkers Bruno Locked Up” and The Sun are still running so there were no implications for their language. Only the other day my local paper reported on a ‘lunatic’ teenage driver. Are we really still using this discriminating and unnecessary language? There are other words that could be used for example, wreckless or dangerous. It isn’t right to comment on the colour of someone’s skin when they have committed a crime because it is simply not relevant but the same goes with mental health. There are some rare and unfortunate cases where someone’s mental health does result in crime but for the majority of people the biggest risk is to themselves and the constant stigmatising and discriminating attitudes in the media leave people finding it even harder to seek help and therefore more likely to end up in a crisis situation.
A comment I often hear when discussing mental health discrimination is that I need to get a sense of humour but none of the above points have anything to do with comedy. We need to start treating all discrimination equally. Discriminating against race is unacceptable but so is discriminating against mental health. The media are in a powerful position, they can either educate a lot of people or cause a lot of damage. It’s about time they stepped up and began educating instead of sensationalising and discriminating.