When I was in hospital I was flicking through a newspaper and I came across the headline, “Prozac Kids Go Violent” in which The Sun reports that 15-25 year olds on the medication were at greater risk of being convincted of murder, robbery or assault. However the lead researcher at Oxford University says it is too early to blame dangerous behaviour on the medication which suggests that this is The Sun having another stab at mental illness and unnecessarily adding to the stigma and misunderstanding around mental illness.
I will say this time and time again: People who have a mental health problem are more likely to be the victim of crime than they are to be the perpetrator!
I am on prozac and I am under the age of 25 and I know many others who are on prozac. Prozac has not made me violent, neither have I murdered anyone, or robbed anywhere or assaulted anyone….none of these things have entered my mind. Prozac helps me by lifting the heaviness and darkness so that I am able to function to some degree. A functional me writes blog posts and speaks out about mental illness in order to reduce stigma and raise awareness and understanding.
Without prozac I would never have walked up a mountain to raise money for a charity and I wouldn’t have been able to travel to Manchester and appear on live TV. Without prozac I wouldn’t have been able to write a letter to a stranger on the subject of hope and happiness and have it published in ‘Dear Stranger’ which raises money for Mind, the mental health charity.
A Swedish study found that there was no link between prozac and violence in the over 25s and I am certain there is no link between the anti-depressant and violence in the under 25s either. The risk that lays with prozac and under 25s is that it can increase the risk of suicidal feelings in younger people but this is usually whilst starting the medication and side effects tend to disappear after a period of taking the medication.
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.