Today’s Sun front page: sensationalist, dishonest and an example of everything that’s wrong with the press

Today's Sun front page represents the absolute worst of our printed media.

“Is that real?”

Despite the Sun being well known for brash headlines and front pages, this was the most common reaction when I showed people this morning’s front page – “are the Sun really sinking that low?” in other words.

So what’s wrong with it?

Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘mental patients’. There are patients with mental health problems – which range from depression to paranoid schizophrenia – but there are no ‘mental patients’. I suspect the Sun knows this (how could it not?), but has used the term to appeal to the worst elements among its readership, as it did with its “Bonkers Bruno” headline 10 years ago.

As for the scaremongering headline about 1,200 people killed by ‘mental patients’ – this is just that: scaremongering. As the Mirror reports today, people suffering from mental illness are in fact far more likely to fall victim to crime (including violent crime) than those who are well.

The Mirror goes on to say that men with mental illness are seven times more likely to suffer three or more different types of crime than the general public, while Women who suffer from serious mental illness are 10 times more at risk of becoming victims of crime.

The charity Time to Change has been documenting the facts on this for some time now, which I suspect the Sun has willfully chosen to ignore. As the charity puts it:

  • The majority of violent crimes and homicides are committed by people who do not have mental health problems. In fact, 95 per cent of homicides are committed by people who have not been diagnosed with a mental health problem

  • People with mental health problems are more dangerous to themselves than they are to others: 90 per cent of people who die through suicide in the UK are experiencing mental distress

  • In 2011, the total population in England and Wales was 56.1 million. It is estimated that about one in six of the adult population will have a significant mental health problem at any one time (more than 7 million people). Given this number and the 50–70 cases of homicide a year involving people known to have a mental health problem at the time of the murder, clearly the statistics data do not support the sensationalised media coverage about the danger that people with mental health problems present to the community.

  • According to the British Crime Survey, almost half (47 per cent) of the victims of violent crimes believed that their offender was under the influence of alcohol and about 17 per cent believed that the offender was under the influence of drugs. Another survey suggested that about 30 per cent of victims believed that the offender attacked them because they were under the influence of drugs or alcohol. In contrast, only 1 per cent of victims believed that the violent incident happened because the offender had a mental illness.

  • Contrary to popular belief, the incidence of homicide committed by people diagnosed with mental health problems has stayed at a fairly constant level since the 1990s

  • Substance abuse appears to play a role: The prevalence of violence is higher among people who have symptoms of substance abuse (including discharged psychiatric patients and non-patients).

Reporting stories featuring violence and mental health problems

  • stick to the facts – don’t speculate about someone’s mental health being a factor unless the facts are clear
  • consider including contextualising facts about how very few people with mental health problems are violent
  • seek comment from a mental health charity such as Mind or Rethink Mental Illness
  • speak to the perpetrator’s family – often they are victims too with compelling stories to tell

Why not hear more about how it feels to hear stories linking mental health and violence when you have a mental health problem?

Why report the facts, though, when you can shift more copy by scaring people about hoards of dangerous  ‘mental patients’ on the loose?

Today’s Sun front page represents the absolute worst of our printed media. Fortunately, there is some consolation for those who believe strongly in a free press in the fact that the Mirror has, on the same day, gone with a more accurate and reasoned story on mental illness. The real question is how to ensure the facts are heard above all the dishonest sensationalism.

32 Responses to “Today’s Sun front page: sensationalist, dishonest and an example of everything that’s wrong with the press”

  1. SimonB

    The Sun appears to have decided to join the Mail by upping the nastiness ante. This is all so that they can yell about PC gone mad and censorship in anticipation of the Privy Council meeting this week when the Royal Charter recommended by Leveson is to be considered. Anyone affected is just collateral damage in their plea for special privilege.

  2. Hannah

    Disgusting use of public media to further oust a population of the public who are already unduly discriminated against.

  3. Ian Robathan

    disgusting and disgraceful, what is the free press we have to protect when we have this kind of thing. This is not journalism at all but muck racking and making a section of our society pay for others failings. I will not invoke Godwin’s law but seen this all before.

  4. Geoff Hopkins

    Typical headline from a paper that exists at the lowest end of the news spectrum, Murdoch has a lot to answer for.

  5. JoanneH

    Who is pushing these stories – the government by any chance? workhouses for the homeless and asylums for anybody suffering from any kind of mental affliction – not as far fetched as it sounds.

  6. martinn

    people say i am dangerous to others, i am at risk to myself which all fabricated stories made up by a mob of people that hate me which has been going on for years. from the time you meet a psychiatrist they want to know everything about the patient and then will take advantage of any weakness or situation they can find. its supposed to be a service which cares for people instead the consultants and doctors are just after money and don’t really listen to what you are saying and sometimes they may use psychotropic weapons to induced harm in areas of the body. i am not violent and most patients aren’t violent they are mostly pushed over the edge our wound up to state of anger which some people lose control others don’t. not to mention hate crime that goes along with it, some professionals in the business may not like for who you are and that is another reason for a patient getting bad treatment or being victimised.

    if you work as a doctor or psychiatrist get out of the business if you dont have an open heart for people suffering!

  7. martinn

    people say i am dangerous to others, i am at risk to myself which all fabricated stories made up by a mob of people that hate me which has been going on for years. from the time you meet a psychiatrist they want to know everything about the patient and then will take advantage of any weakness or situation they can find. its supposed to be a service which cares for people instead the consultants and doctors are just after money and don’t really listen to what you are saying and sometimes they may use psychotropic weapons to induced harm in areas of the body. i am not violent and most patients aren’t violent they are mostly pushed over the edge our wound up to state of anger which some people lose control others don’t. not to mention hate crime that goes along with it, some professionals in the business may not like for who you are and that is another reason for a patient getting bad treatment or being victimised.

    if you work as a doctor or psychiatrist get out of the business if you dont have an open heart for people suffering!

  8. anon

    Ok it’s a horrible headline. But you’re using these old tired arguments that are used to explain away undesirable behaviour by any group. e.g. “they’re more likely to fall victim to crime” “Most violent crimes committed by mentally healthy people”. As with discussions of black gun crime, or muslim sex abuse, both of these points are obvious, and neither deal with the issue.

  9. Matthew Smith

    “Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘mental patients’. There are patients with mental health problems – which range from depression to paranoid schizophrenia”

    Paranoid schizophrenia is not the extreme of mental illness that this suggests – it’s the condition most associated with violence in the media, but is actually the most common form of schizophrenia.

    There is a blog by a woman with this condition, which gives a more topical picture of what it’s like:

    http://www.schizophreniasucks.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

  10. Matthew Smith

    “Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘mental patients’. There are patients with mental health problems – which range from depression to paranoid schizophrenia”

    Paranoid schizophrenia is not the extreme of mental illness that this suggests – it’s the condition most associated with violence in the media, but is actually the most common form of schizophrenia.

    There is a blog by a woman with this condition, which gives a more topical picture of what it’s like:

    http://www.schizophreniasucks.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

  11. Matthew Smith

    “Firstly, there is no such thing as ‘mental patients’. There are patients with mental health problems – which range from depression to paranoid schizophrenia”

    Paranoid schizophrenia is not the extreme of mental illness that this suggests – it’s the condition most associated with violence in the media, but is actually the most common form of schizophrenia.

    There is a blog by a woman with this condition, which gives a more topical picture of what it’s like:

    http://www.schizophreniasucks.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

  12. another nut

    best not pass them as fit for work then…

  13. Henry Page

    On a Twitter page yesterday called ‘Right Wing Spring’ I found the term ‘Leftard goons’ in one tweet. I was appalled because I quickly deduced that ‘Leftard’ was actually a contraction of ‘leftie’ and ‘retard’. The word retard in this context is deemed offensive by the OED.

    I sent them two tweets:

    Henry Page ‏@henrypage:disqus
    6 Oct
    #Tent101 @RightWingSpring Here’s a quote from one of your followers: “leftard goons” = an amalgam of left and retard. OED deems it offensive”

    and …

    Henry Page ‏@henrypage:disqus
    6 Oct
    @RightWingSpring Here’s a lovely quote from one of your tweets: “leftard goons” ie ‘retard’. No wonder Tories are so roundly despised.

    Why do right-wing followers think it is OK to – a) use terms that will offend those with mental health difficulties and – b) to class left wing thinking as if it is the product of those with a sub-normal IQ?

  14. Hawkeye

    You also miss one very important point which is that the term “patient” is simply wrong. The report this figure is taken from makes clear that the 1200 or so were people who showed an abnormal mental state when they committed the offence. As such, that would include people who, for instance, were severely depressed whether or not they were actually receiving treatment (i.e. they were a patient) at the time.

  15. jo

    Appalling. Has this newspaper learnt nothing from it’s ‘Bonkers Bruno’ days? Clearly not.

  16. Celia

    At least 10600 killed by ConDem policies but who’s counting? Certainly not the ConDems!

  17. D.Guy

    Well they did consider putting everyone with HIV into camps last time. Of course under the current government those camps would have to be built by people on job seekers first.

  18. Chris Gray

    Speaking
    as an ex ‘Mental Patient’ and a person with a very severe diagnosis
    (yet still living independantly and not killing anyone!), I find this
    totally offensive. People with mental health problems are far more
    likely to harm themselves than anybody else. All this does is re-inforce
    victorian attitudes towards mental health issues and the stigma still
    attached to them! Part of the reason I got so very ill (and others do!)
    was because I was afraid of being put into hospital because I believed
    some of the hype surrounding mental health issues. Nobody I met while in
    hospital had ever harmed anybody!

  19. Rob

    Give your bloody head a wobble.
    Ok, just because it is inconvenient to the left,
    lets pretend that mental patients don’t kill anyone,
    lets pretend blacks don’t mug people
    and lets pretend muslims aren’t grooming white children for sexual exploitation.
    There you go, all sorted out now, thanks to the left the world is now a prettier place.

  20. rob

    Very astute, fucktard.

  21. Henry Page

    Prove my point why not? Who read it all for you?

  22. Mr.Pink

    Oh look a paranoid straight white male filled with prejudice, there’s something you don’t see every day. Nobody is saying muslims aren’t grooming white children for sexual exploitation. The difference is we don’t go and blame ALL muslims or ALL black people for the actions of a few.

  23. Mr.Pink

    Here’s the thing. White groups of men groom young girls for sex and traffick them, the only difference is they aren’t reported as much. When the news is filled with stories of muslim groups of men being arrested every week, then it leads you to believe only muslims are doing these crimes. That is, of course, bollocks. Additionally, you can’t blame “black gun crime” on black people because of their skin colour. Crimes like robbery, theft, gang crime, gun crime, drug use and drug dealing are a result of necessity; lack of opportunity and poverty. This is not down to the colour of their skin, this is down to systematic lack of opportunity and disadvantage. Just as many white people commit these crimes if not more, the only difference is they are much less likely to get CAUGHT.

  24. Trofim

    “It is estimated that about one in six of the adult population will have a
    significant mental health problem at any one time ”

    Hang on, you started talking about mental illness and then you switch to the curious concept of “a mental health problem”. This is equivocation. I spent my career in psychiatry, starting in 1968, before community treatment. There was, and is not, in psychiatry such a wooly concept as “mental health problem”. Perhaps you mean ordinary human unhappiness, an inevitable component of the human condition. Certainly, there is no way in which 1 in 7 of the population suffers from a mental illness. The concept of “mental illness” is highly formulated and encoded in diagnostic terms and of long, long provenance. Perhaps James Bloodworth would like to elucidate exactly what “a mental health problem” is, and how it differs from mental illness, but I’m quite sure he won’t, and can’t.

  25. Trofim

    Evidence to substantiate your assertions, please.

  26. Trofim

    Evidence to substantiate your assertions, please.

  27. Trofim

    Evidence to substantiate your assertions, please.

  28. bob woods

    The Sun and Daily Mail are hardly helping the cause of press freedom with this bilge.

  29. Democritus

    Your quote shows the word “significant” which you absent mindedly left out of your spiel!

    “What are Mental Health Problems?”

    “Mental health problems range from the worries we all experience as part
    of everyday life to serious long-term conditions. The majority of people
    who experience mental health problems can get over them or learn to
    live with them, especially if they get help early on.

    Mental health problems are usually defined and classified to enable
    professionals to refer people for appropriate care and treatment. But
    some diagnoses are controversial and there is much concern in the mental
    health field that people are too often treated according to or
    described by their label. This can have a profound effect on their
    quality of life. Nevertheless, diagnoses remain the most usual way of
    dividing and classifying symptoms into groups.”

    Quote taken from the Mental Health Foundation.

  30. Janey

    All points take but you CANNOT deny that do- gooders have deemed safe mentally ill pts who have gone on to commit atrocious crimes.

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