27th March 2015
Firstly, while this blog is still in its very early stages, I wish to re-emphasise that I will not solely be writing about mental illness. I plan to provide comment on a provocative, debate-inducing story which has featured heavily in the press, whatever the subject matter. I’m not going to pretend that some of my posts won’t naturally (and, potentially, subconsciously) head into the realms of mental health, but only when appropriate. After waking up to the disturbing headlines concerning the tragic Germanwings air disaster, and, in particular the aeroplane’s co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, however, there was no way that I could not this the subject of my second piece.
Below are, what I consider, the three most irresponsible front pages from the UK press as published by The Sun, The Mirror and The Daily Mail today.
I consciously use the word “irresponsible” because I truly believe that the mainstream media has a duty of care towards its readership; its level of influence and its ubiquity assures me of this. We are all, whether we like it or not, continuously open to being manipulated, swayed or coerced by the media, with it having overwhelming effect on the formation of our opinions. The diffusion, and subsequent permeation, of what we read, watch and hear shapes our mind-set. This, of course, can be extremely positive and we must not take for granted the freedom of the press which we have in this country. Occasionally, however, it can be exploited and consequently damaging. Sadly I believe the latter is true in this case and I am obliged to add my voice to help question how this tragedy is being reported. Writing in The Guardian today, Masuma Rahim concurs and recognises the ‘barrage of stigmatising, fear-mongering media reports.’
It is now being widely-reported that Andreas Lubitz hid his history of poor mental health from his employers. Before my own diagnosis I too tried to keep what I was feeling and thinking a secret from not only my colleagues but also my friends and family. It seems completely paradoxical to me that the same media outlets which are blaming this tragedy seemingly solely Lubitz’s depression and his reluctance to be open about his mental health are indeed part of the very area of influence which breeds this fear of “coming out.” Pejorative and loaded language such as “crazed” and “madman” cannot prompt intelligent, informed debate and can only reinforce outdated impressions of those of us who live with poor mental health every day.
One in four people will suffer from a mental health condition, at varying degrees, at some point in their life and suicide remains the biggest killer of men under the age of forty-five here in the UK. It is absolutely vital that those struggling, and there are many of us, feel able to openly discuss their inner thoughts and feelings. I believe that verbalising the state of one’s mental health is the first, and probably the hardest, step towards recovery. Since I began discussing my experiences of living with depression and anxiety on social media the point that I continually find myself making is the importance of making one’s mental health tangible. By removing its immaterial, vague and rather fluid nature, it can begin to be dealt with. We all, myself included, have to keep remembering that recovery is possible with the right support. Headlines like those above only succeed in people keeping their illness a secret. It breeds shame, embarrassment and, worst of all, stigma. Conversation is key. In order for a person to start such conversations about their mental illness they need to feel comfortable and assured that they will not be vilified.