Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Media headlines are REAL madness

(the Sun news-rag's monstrous exaggeration of tragic circumstances - again. Wasn't their Hillsborough coverage cock-up bad enough ?)  This is their headline of Monday 7th October 2013 :-

1200 killed by Mental Patients

These figures are supposed to cover a decade -  ten long years, which is an average of 120, per annum - IF their figures are to be believed. However, that fuller statement wouldn't be as dramatic and collar-grabbing as the one above, would it ?  Also, it wouldn't be as damaging to anyone who suffers from a wide range of health problems - from emotional crisis to life-long incurable  problems such as paranoid schizophrenia, bi-polar manic depression, or a more difficult diagnosis of a personality disorder. That's not forgetting psychopaths who are capable of attacking anyone at any time, with no reason and no remorse after the event.

The problem here is that anyone can kill a person and then have an appropriate psychotic label attached to them afterwards. So, getting back to the atrocious Sun article was probably written by some unknown journalist, who wouldn't normally be allowed to publish anything more sinister than a pizza menu !  You may be aware that such dramatic figures are published in this unsubstantiated manner, in order to vilify and even demonise any poor soul who is perceived as having a 'mental' problem.

The internal 'investigation', lists only eleven murders committed by people with a diagnosable mental health problem. We are not told where the balance of victims hail from but the general - and ( I think ) intended effect of the article is to stigmatise anyone who suffers from the simplest, curable ailment, such as the emotional stress from a divorce or a fatality in the family.

In fairness to the NHS, the article hints that these 'broken people' have been failed by the mental health system and consequently have 'slipped through the net'. If we are to believe the Sun, that's a hell of a lot of broken people and a net in need of urgent repair. The point is that you cannot condemn NHS mental health services for every death occurring from a sudden, unpredictable destructive incident.

On the other side, of course, there are incidences of manias brought on by a failure to take the prescribed medication.  For example more patients than ever are being prematurely discharged from hospital, resulting in the shameful statistic that most suicides occur within the first two weeks after discharge. The idea behind this notion is that patients will improve quicker if placed back into the community. 

In theory, Community Mental Health teams will pick up the discharged patient and then prepare a Care Plan for his or her on-going treatment which provides details of all medication and the regularity of each dosage.  It's a great theory but, in practice there are never enough CMHT nurses, or council-run social workers to ensure that no one 'slips through the net' and misses out on a vital call. Experience has taught us that schizophrenics have predictable periods of 'normal' behaviour and feel confident to go out not having taken their medication.  It is during these periods that the patient is at most risk of harming himself, or at a much smaller risk of him/her harming others out of fear that they themselves are being threatened.

Similarly, bi-polar patients will have periods where they feel that they can manage their conditions without taking their medication.  Some of these may have a mania where they strip naked or stand in the middle of a road stopping traffic. However, the small number of times these incidents occur, no harm results to anybody.

So - in conclusion - the Sun newspaper is misrepresenting the facts in order to create a far greater alarming effect, than simply printing the facts gained from putting such incidents into their proper perspective. Therefore, frightening headlines like these sell newspapers, whilst causing unnecessary alarm amongst the public. Unfortunately, the inevitable effect of such irresponsible journalism is greater stigmatisation of the mentally ill, which is unforgivable.         R.    W.

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